Sylvain Bruneau at the Miami Open

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

The Canadian team presented by Sobeys is led by a great captain and equally exceptional players, each of whom give their all when representing their country at international competitions like Billie Jean King Cup. Still, it’s easy to forget the many people behind the scenes who help the athletes perform at their best on the court. 

Team Canada is fortunate to count on professionals with a wide range of expertise to ensure the players representing our country are at the top of their game, both physically and mentally: coaches, fitness trainers, physicians, physiotherapists, massage therapists and the list goes on!

In our Behind the team series, we introduce the people whose somewhat understated roles are never undervalued. Catch up with Sylvain Bruneau, interim team captain of Canada’s Billie Jean King Cup team and Head of Women’s Pro and Transition Tennis at Tennis Canada.

Team Canada: 2004 to today

A well-known figure in Canadian tennis, Sylvain Bruneau will once again be joining Team Canada as interim captain at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals. He takes over from Heidi El Tabakh, who’ll be celebrating her wedding during the tournament. For the coach who dedicated his time to the national squad from 2004 to 2018, the upcoming competition marks an exciting return to his roots.

“My first competition with Team Canada was in 2004, when I was named Fed Cup [now Billie Jean King Cup] coach. I coached until 2010 and was the official team captain until 2018,” explained Sylvain. “It’s an event I really love: the best countries in the world go head-to-head as teams and the opportunity to represent Canada is such a tremendous source of pride. It’s actually the first time the world’s best nations compete in a year-end tournament, so the event promises to be very interesting.”

Sylvain Bruneau coaching Bianca at the Fed Cup
Photo: Arturo Velazquez

At international competitions, captains play a key role. They have the privilege of being on the court during the matches. They can also talk with the players and provide advice and encouragement. That’s the most significant difference between the duties of the captain and coach, who must remain on the bench with the rest of the team during the tournament. In 2021, the captain will be all the more important, since Canada, which is heading into Billie Jean King Cup without Bianca Andreescu, Leylah Fernandez or Eugenie Bouchard, will be counting on talented but less experienced players.

“There are major challenges ahead,” affirmed Bruneau. “First, we play against France and the Russian Tennis Federation, which both have several Top 100 players on their teams. Our players don’t rank as high in singles but have all the skills to play top-level tennis. The indoor hard court conditions often favour the Canadians, and we’re going to Prague with the intention of surprising a few people!”

Beyond results, togetherness

In an age in which performance is often paramount, it’s easy to forget that tennis is a community of people who forge precious ties. And that’s something Bruneau emphasizes without hesitation when asked about his fondest memory of Billie Jean King Cup.

“I have a lot of great memories from Billie Jean King Cup, including excellent wins with so many players. But my best and most significant memory is working with my dear friend Rene Simpson Collins for several years. I loved being her coach when she was captain of the team. She passed away a few years ago, and that was very difficult for me. Still, that’s what I remember most from the Cup.”

Rene Simpson - Olympics 1992
Olympics team 1992: Top Row: Robert Bettaun, Andrew Sznajder, Rene Simpson, Andre Labelle
Bottom Row: Brian Gyetko and Sebastian LeBlanc

The huge importance he places on the human aspect of tennis is truly fundamental to Bruneau, who, after falling completely in love with the sport, began his career as a coach when he was around 19 years old. While he has worked with a number of excellent players, including Bianca Andreescu, Marie-Ève Pelletier and Jocelyn Robichaud to name only a few, his vision of tennis reaches far beyond results.  

“Tennis and teaching—especially children—define my purpose. What I really appreciate about my job is being able to encourage athletes to push themselves beyond their limits on the court, and also in life, in terms of the values and mental abilities that are essential to compete at the highest level. That’s extremely motivating to me.”

Taking Canadian women’s tennis to even greater heights

Canada winning the tie - Fed Cup 2017
Photo: Arturo Velazquez

After Louis Borfiga’s retirement, Sylvain was appointed Head of Women’s Pro and Transition Tennis at Tennis Canada and has taken on an even more important role for the players at the National Tennis Centre presented by Rogers. In his new position, which is especially close to his heart, he has very big ambitions for Canadian women’s tennis.

“We’ve done some extraordinary things in recent years. Now, I’d like for Canada to have a lot more players achieving their dreams on the women’s Tour. And, of course, it would be amazing to win Billie Jean King Cup or Olympic gold or Grand Slam titles. More than anything, in the future, I hope more Canadians will represent their country and earn a living playing tennis,” he concluded.