Gavin Ziv (right) shakes hands with Jannik Sinner in the player lounge.

Photo : Peter Power

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Gavin Ziv since receiving the news of his appointment as the incoming CEO of Tennis Canada. Discussions about what comes next kicked off right away with Ziv slated to officially take over the role in late fall, succeeding long-time CEO Michael Downey who is scheduled to retire at the end of December.

Ziv’s decades-long journey with Tennis Canada has been driven by his passion for the sport and the community that surrounds it. Having undertaken various leadership roles over the years, he most recently held the position of Chief Tournaments Officer, spearheading the ATP and WTA 1000 National Bank Open presented by Rogers tournaments in both Toronto and Montreal. He’s thrilled to be embarking on this new venture.

“It’s an honour to be named as the next Chief Executive Officer of Tennis Canada at this time of growth in our sport,” said the 48-year old former ball kid. “We have become a world-leading tennis nation under Michael’s excellent stewardship and I look forward to building upon his legacy by mapping out the best possible future for our sport in Canada.”

With a winning mentality firmly grounded in the belief that Canadian tennis can compete with the world’s best in any area, Ziv has been integral to the evolution of the sport in the country. He played a pivotal role in leading Canadian negotiations to secure equal prize money for WTA players at the National Bank Open, starting in 2027 and was named one of 20 Ambassadors of the Game.

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Part of his vision for the future includes continuing to capitalize on the exciting success of Canadian players in recent years including Milos Raonic, Bianca Andreescu, Leylah Annie Fernandez and Felix Auger-Aliassime who, among others, are inspiring new tennis fans across the country. The growth initiative includes enhancing accessibility through the expansion of tennis courts across the country and the improvement of existing facilities. With an emphasis on inclusivity, safety, and increasing participation, particularly among children, a primary objective is to ensure that young players not only enter but also stay in the sport.

“The halo of success internationally was very important but what we do with that excitement is where the growth phase comes in,” says Ziv. “We only have 750 accessible tennis courts around the country. We need more. Because we have this sport that is internationally appealing and our players are doing well, I think that resonates with the opportunity for Canadians to get more involved in helping to grow the sport.”

Over the years, Ziv and Downey have developed a close relationship characterized by open and constructive discussions, which have contributed to the rapid growth of the sport in the country. Unprecedented successes including Andreescu’s 2019 U.S. Open and National Bank Open wins and Canada’s historic victory at the Davis Cup in 2022 are all part of Downey’s enduring legacy, says Ziv. Beyond that, he adds, Downey created the framework and infrastructure that allowed those achievements to be possible.

“He’s been a great mentor,” said Ziv. “ I wouldn’t be sitting in this opportunity to be the next CEO if it wasn’t for Michael. He’s very entrepreneurial, very innovative and very creative. The roadmap he has set up, the structure of our company, the lines of business, the amazing people who work at our company, all fall under his leadership, which is part of his legacy,”

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The pair’s symbiotic relationship has been an invaluable source of mutual learning.

“I couldn’t think of anyone more appropriate to steer the Tennis Canada ship into the future,” said Downey, who spent 15 years as Tennis Canada’s President and CEO. “Gavin knows the business inside out and has spent 25 years working passionately for the greater good of our sport. Most recently, he crafted our five-year strategic plan and 10-year revenue forecast for the National Bank Opens. I have every confidence that, with Gavin at the helm, Tennis Canada will continue to reach new heights.”

Despite his already substantial business acumen, Ziv will dedicate the next few months to further enrich his knowledge before assuming his new role by attending the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. This prestigious and intensive program is tailored to cultivate the final stages of senior leaders’ development into top-tier leaders within their organizations and the broader business realm.

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Ziv’s unwavering commitment to excellence and advancement has been fueled by his deep love for the sport, a passion he has carried with him since childhood.

He immigrated to Canada from Johannesburg, South Africa at the age of five, with tennis already a significant presence in his life. His affection for a small tennis club in Thornhill, Ontario became his gateway to integration into his new Canadian community.

His story and that of other immigrants and children of immigrants dominating the sport in Canada today, exemplifies how tennis can offer opportunities and foster a profound sense of belonging, he says.

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Looking ahead, he acknowledges that the journey to meeting Tennis Canada’s goals is a lengthy one, requiring the active participation of the broader tennis community throughout Canada. He is extending a call to action to communities, municipalities and provincial tennis associations across the nation, urging their support in expanding the sport’s grassroots infrastructure.

“This takes a village, so hopefully we can get there,” says Ziv. “I’m very excited about that. I just want people to be able to enjoy this sport as much as I have, and see how much fun they can have with it.”