Photo: Tennis Canada)

National Bank is all in on tennis.

The sixth-largest bank in Canada is no Johnny-come-lately to the sport. In fact, prior to becoming the title sponsor of the 2021 National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Montreal and Toronto, it was involved in the lower levels of competition on the professional tour.

National Bank jumped into its tennis adventure in 2003 when it became a co-sponsor of the ATP Challenger event in Granby, Quebec. In 2005 it took over as presenting sponsor of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. By 2008 it was the title sponsor of National Bank Challenger in Granby and eventually of five other Challengers. It was hoped that those tournaments would be stepping stones for Canadians to break through into the top ranks of the worldwide game.

Photo: Jean-Samuel Gauthier

Those hopes have become reality. Tennis followers remember 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov’s sensational run to the 2017 Rogers Cup semi-finals in Montreal – including wins over Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal. But five months earlier, at 17, he had won his first Challenger title in Drummondville, Quebec, earning an important 80 ATP ranking points at the National Bank event. Then, just two weeks before his Montreal breakthrough, he picked up another 80 points by winning the National Bank Challenger in Gatineau.

National Bank, which signed on as presenting sponsor of the Toronto Rogers Cup in 2010 having been presenting partner of the Montreal tournament since 2005, has supported events that have played a key role in the careers of other top Canadians. Félix Auger-Aliassime, at just 14, became the youngest player ever to earn an ATP ranking point by qualifying for the main draw at the 2015 National Bank Challenger in Drummondville. Then four months later, still 14, he reached the quarter-finals of the National Bank event in Granby.

National Bank Challengers also gave a boost to Genie Bouchard – a title in Granby in 2012 at age 18 – and to Bianca Andreescu – a 2016 victory in Gatineau at 16. Both earned a valuable 50 points at those events on their climb to eventual top-five status in the WTA rankings.

Photo: Tennis Canada

Like Andreescu, Leylah Annie Fernandez, at 16, achieved the best result (50 WTA ranking points) of her young career by winning the 2019 National Bank Challenger in Gatineau.

The loyalty National Bank has shown to tennis has never been clearer than in these difficult pandemic times. “We have been working on this historic partnership since February 2020 through a series of virtual meetings,” explained Tennis Canada President and CEO Michael Downey. “It’s amazing but we still haven’t met in person to celebrate it. Hopefully we can do that very soon.”

In view of a difficult year in 2020 due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise Downey expressed heartfelt gratitude that National Bank is on board as the new title sponsor of its marquee events. And he is reassured that “it has our back,” with that 10-year term speaking volumes in that regard.

Photo: Tennis Canada

National Bank President and CEO Louis Vachon and his wife Chantal are keen tennis fans who have a genuine appreciation of the sport and its players. That was evident when the bank stepped into the breech last May, with the pandemic a numbing reality, to support Canadian professional players outside the top 100 as well as wheelchair and junior players – 23 in all with grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 each.

“Gestures like that make you see they’re taking it to another level,” said Montreal event managing director Eugène Lapierre about National Bank’s involvement in tennis. “They realized it wasn’t just the very top players who would need help if they’re not able to play for several months. It’s the players who are already struggling on the tour and find themselves with few resources but still need to keep on training. National Bank had that idea and it was really appreciated by the players coming up behind our top ones.”

About Vachon’s passion for tennis, Lapierre added, “I remember when I ran into Louis at Wimbledon in 2019, he was like a kid on the playground. He was super enthusiastic to watch our then next generation players Félix and Denis in early round matches.”

Photo: Jared Wickerham/Tennis Canada

“We learned that it’s so much more than a sport,” Vachon noted. “Tennis Canada embraces a passionate entrepreneurial spirit. The athletes push themselves to not only meet their goals, but to surpass them. They’re a community who inspire young and old alike, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Relative to the bank’s stake in tennis, Downey said, “it wasn’t just about them taking the high-profile National Bank Open title positions, they said ‘no, these Challengers have been really important’ to their legacy and they want to see them continue. In our agreement we’re going add a couple of Challengers over the next few years to broaden the Challenger series in an even bigger way.”

“Because our property, tennis, is national – there are six million people that play it regularly and it’s in communities across the country – they want to grow their footprint across Canada. And we’re going to help them do that. That’s exciting for us.”

Photo: Tennis Canada

Already the leading bank in Quebec, National Bank’s horizons extend Canada wide – and tennis is an important vehicle in that growth, particularly in the Ontario market.

“National Bank will not only be the title sponsor of the Montreal and Toronto tournaments,” Vachon emphasized, “we also want to get behind women’s and girls’ development in a serious way, because gender equality aligns with our core values, as well as Tennis Canada’s provincial partners (associations) and the Tennis Professionals Association.”

“There are a lot of different areas they want to invest in to see the sport grow at all levels,” Downey added. “So, we look at them as not only our new title sponsor. National Bank isn’t just the bank of Tennis Canada, it’s actually the bank of tennis in Canada.”