At a press conference in July, three weeks before the National Bank Open, tournament director Eugène Lapierre kept emphasizing the importance of the first weekend.

For him, the qualifying rounds are something every tennis fan should come and watch. Insisting on the quality of the competitors, he stressed that you could see your idols up close and sit on the different courts to watch some famous names—and some Canadians—for only $15.

Case in point was today’s 11 a.m. match on Centre Court between emerging local talent Jaden Weekes and Daniel Altmaier of Germany.

Meanwhile, Weekes’ veteran countryman Kelsey Stevenson of Toronto was on Rogers Court with none other than Fabio Fognini, who’s the current No.55 but was in the Top 10 the last time he was here, three years ago.

Players like Fognini, as well as Rinderknech, Paire, Giron, Mannarino, Draper, Sousa and Duckworth are exactly what Eugène Lapierre’s was talking about. And for Canadians Jaden Weekes, Liam Draxl, Juan Carlos Aguilar and Gabriel Diallo, competing in this type of tournament is a critical learning experience.

The other facet of this feast for the eyes is the chance to catch a glimpse of the ATP stars on courts, where fans can get closer to them than ever before. Monfils, Shapovalov, Murray, Hurkacz and other big names thrilled everyone in attendance.

Mr. Jean-François Ouellet of Longueuil, on Montréal’s South Shore, is a tennis player. And so is his young son, Maxime, who got to hit a few balls with David Goffin of Belgium earlier in the day at a kids’ tennis activity.

Afterwards, they immediately headed over to the court where Denis Shapovalov was practicing and didn’t miss a single one of the spectacular Canadian’s shots. Jean-François Ouellet has a strong opinion about how lucky fans are at a day like today.

“I prefer this to matches in big stadiums,” he said. “We get close up, and we can see their technique. And their consistency, like machines. Their preparation is always the same, and they keep doing it over and over.”

“The players who are training are better than the ones competing on Centre Court,” added Maxime with an irrefutable logic.

ATP young guns Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner were on their list for the afternoon.

“It’s extraordinary, for so little, to have access to all these players,” said Christiane Tremblay, a tennis player from Saint-Lambert, on the South Shore of Montréal. She had seen Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, Gaël Monfils, Denis Shapovalov and Benoît Paire and was walking over to Rogers Court to watch Fabio Fognini in action. “You see their muscles, their stamina and their speed. And to see them so close is extraordinary. And on top of that, they’re in good spirits and friendly. They take training very seriously, but you still feel like they’re close to the public.”

Christian Albarado, a Montrealer from Bogota, Colombia, used simple and clear images to describe the magnitude of his pleasure: “Paraiso! I feel like I’m in paradise. For me, coming here is like going to Disneyland!”

Rafaella Panizza, another Montrealer from Sao Paulo, Brazil, was enjoying the show with her friends Gabriel and Pedro.

“I love their grit, the fact that they give their all. It’s so cool. What impresses me is their talent, of course, but also their work ethic. Even with all this activity around them.”

Marie-Pier Sirois, from L’Île-Perrot on the West Island, said the same. She’d just seen Carlos Alcaraz on the practice courts. What struck her was the superstars’ kindness and openness.

“My boyfriend just discovered the world of tennis. And he couldn’t believe he could watch the best players in the world and sometimes even talk to them. Gaël Monfils was playing with a few kids earlier. We commented and he answered us! That’s crazy! They’re very accessible.”

Sunday’s menu is the same as today’s. The word is out, and scores of fans will be invading IGA Stadium one more time before the main draw starts on Monday.