Photo : Amy Elle
by Kylie Walker
Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino joined Tennis Canada and 72 aspiring women and girl athletes at the Girls. Set. Match. Tie-break Tournament on Monday. The event, sponsored by National Bank, was held at the Tennis Centre in Langley, B.C., and was just the third of its kind.
Equipped with a lime green racquet, Marino was eager to answer questions, take photographs, sign tennis balls, and motivate young players to keep growing and developing their skills.
“It’s amazing to see so many girls here, staying in the sport,” said the Canadian with a career-high rank of No. 38 during a Q&A with the athletes. “I want you to be sitting in my spot one day, and I’ll be watching you and asking you questions. Can we make that our goal?”
In 2021, Tennis Canada announced a 10-year partnership with National Bank. Together, they’ve created an ambitious longstanding strategy to grow female participation in tennis and provide self-identified women and girls with an equal voice and a safe, inclusive space to play the sport they love.
“We want to create a better, more equitable environment so girls and women can grow, lead, and succeed in tennis. We have a strategic approach and phases to increase participation, develop leaders, level the playing field at all levels, and change the status quo,” said Terri Temelini, director of Women and Girls Advancement at Tennis Canada. “I hope the girls playing take away friendships. I hope this tournament helps them see a future for themselves in tennis.”
Temelini’s hopes for Monday’s event were realized. Manjeet Hehar, a tennis mom of three years, believes her daughter gained a lot from this experience.
“This initiative is great for building friendships, building their confidence and showing them that they can be whoever they want to be, do whatever they want to do,” she said.
The tournament followed a shorter (but just as fun) format. Each match lasted roughly 15 minutes, and the event had no sets or games, just points. Players had to be the first to get to 10 points and had to win by two.
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“It’s nice having shorter matches because you get to experience playing against a bunch of different players with a bunch of different strategies,” said Delilah Herdman, who picked up a tennis racquet for the first time about five years ago. “It’s simple, easy, and just fun.”
The event had three different age categories — U12, U14, and U16/18 — and had its older participants step out on the court to mentor younger players.
These mentors are recent graduates of the Inspire Through Sport Mentorship program — an all-girls coaching course meant to inspire Canada’s next generation of elite girl tennis players. They encouraged athletes in the U12 category, advising the younger players on their serves, helping them with strategy, and loudly cheering them on.
Mentors also aimed to teach the young girls about the different career pathways available in tennis. Tournament participants could complete a scavenger hunt to learn about roles in leadership, coaching, officiating, communications, and marketing.
Seventeen-year-old mentor and participant Tasmiyah Siddiqui has already started paving her own pathways. Last year, while in high school, Siddiqui started a tennis non-profit. Her organization, Learn Tennis, gives “underprivileged kids the opportunity to learn and pursue the sport of tennis with experienced coaches, for free.”
“Tennis is an expensive sport with the cost of equipment, rackets, lessons,” said Siddiqui. “I want to give everyone the opportunity to get into the sport and participate in in-house tournaments to build up their skills and get scholarships in the future.”
Siddiqui and the other participants got to take home Girls. Set. Match. goodie bags complete with matching red sweatshirts and tickets to watch Marino and Team Canada play at the Billie Jean King Cup on April 14-15.
“I’m looking forward to seeing so many young girls and amazing athletes in the stands cheering and supporting women’s tennis,” said Marino when asked about the upcoming tie. “And to playing in front of my friends and family. It’s nice to be home. Vancouver is home base.”