Aaron Sanchez, a pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, tennis’ Genie Bouchard and Edmonton Oiler superstar Connor McDavid made an appearance in Toronto last Wednesday to promote Rogers Cup.

They kibitzed, took part in a series of skill-testing competitions and generally goofed around for the assembled media and fans at the Kew Gardens Tennis Club.

It was all part of stirring up interest in the women’s Rogers Cup, which begins this Saturday with free admission at Sobeys Stadium for qualifying rounds, and by association in the men’s event that starts on Friday with free admission to STADE IGA for pre-tournament player practice sessions and the draw ceremony.

Rafael Nadal should be one of the players hitting balls Friday in the Coupe Rogers main stadium because he’s scheduled to arrive in town on Thursday.

It’s always a treat to have great champions and former No. 1s at the events and Venus Williams can be expected to provide a similar boost to the Toronto tournament when she arrives for her first event since being runner-up at Wimbledon last month.

With the caveat that there can always be unforeseen withdrawals, both tournaments look promising with only a pregnant Serena Williams and Timea Bacsinszky missing from the women’s entry among the Top 25 players and just Novak Djokovic, out for the rest of the year with a bone bruise on his right elbow, absent among the big-name men.

Roger Federer is the name on most people’s lips and his participation is still uncertain – but things look more positive than shortly after he won Wimbledon and said he would discuss the next day (July 17th) about his plans for playing, as he put it then, “in Canada.”

Fans of the incomparable Swiss will be hoping he’s able to play Rogers Cup for the first time since losing in the 2014 final to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto, and in Montreal for the first time since 2011 when he was beaten in the round-of-16 by…Tsonga.

In fact Tsonga has had remarkable success against Federer in Canada – also upsetting him in the Montreal quarter-finals in 2009. Half of the 32-year-old Frenchman’s six wins in 17 matches (6-11) vs. Federer have come in Canada.

Federer’s fervent followers in La Belle Province are hoping to see him again, and to celebrate his 36th birthday on the second day of the main draw – Tuesday, August 8th.

As for Toronto, there will be two multiple Grand Slam champions attempting to win their first Rogers Cup. Williams, runner-up to Agnieszka Radwanska in Montreal in 2014, and Maria Sharapova, finalist in 2009 in Toronto against Elena Dementieva.

Other multiple Grand Slam winners in this year’s field include Petra Kvitova, champion in Montreal in 2012, as well as Wimbledon winner Garbiñe Muguruza, Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The Canadian draw-cards will be Bouchard, Francoise Abanda and 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu from nearby Mississauga, Ont., who won her first WTA match in Washington on Monday – 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 over No. 83-ranked Camila Giorgi. The main-draw wild cards will go to Sharapova, Bouchard and Abanda, with Andreescu playing the qualifying.

In Montreal, Milos Raonic is in the main draw and it will be Vasek Pospisil, Denis Shapovalov, who’s slated to play on Tuesday afternoon, Peter Polansky and Brayden Schnur receiving the four wild cards.

English language coverage of both events in Canada will begin Monday on Sportsnet while TVA will be carrying the tournaments in French.



Michael Downey, Tennis Canada president from 2004 until 2013, returned from Britain and has again been in his former position in Toronto since July 17th. This interview took place in his office last week.

Q: Three and a half years as chief executive of the (British) Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), what do you take from that experience?

MD: It was a great experience both professionally and personally. I had the opportunity to see so much of Great Britain. I visited over a hundred locations in England over those three years.

Also, on the business side, I’m really really proud of a lot of the things that we did to grow British tennis, especially grassroots. The sport had been in a long-term decline and now it’s clocking at about a seven per cent annual growth rate.

Q: Are there any specific things that you’re the most proud of while you were there?

MD: I think it starts with the strategic plan – the organization had gone eight years without a new strategic plan. So that was the first initiative. It was about participation. I’m a firm believer that the first thing the national governing body has to look at is the base. And if the base isn’t growing they’ve got to fix that base. We turned around the sport with the help of numerous partners across the country. I think it was that focus on participation and that focus of working through people – which is something I believed when I was in this role (president) the last time at Tennis Canada – working through people.

Q: What was it like working with Wimbledon and being involved with the All England Club?

MD: Life is about experiences and to be part (as chief executive of the LTA) of the committee of management of Wimbledon was very, very special. To see the operation of what I believe is the world’s best tennis tournament from the inside was unbelievably rewarding. Wimbledon has great memories and I think the biggest one was when Milos and Eugenie were in the finals and also seeing Denis win junior Wimbledon – those were phenomenal events because I had the opportunity of cheering for two different nations at that point in time. I was cheering for Canadians and always cheering for Brits.

Q: Why are you back with Tennis Canada?

MD: Really for two reasons – one is opportunity. I’m a Canadian and I’m 60 years of age at this point in time and I knew I wanted to come back. My wife and I wanted to come back so it was really about two birds with one stone. When the Tennis Canada job came up I wanted to look at it seriously because I love tennis and I love tennis in Canada. Also I think the sport and the organization are in a really good place. It’s an opportunity to just see if we can take it to a higher level. And on a personal level it was an opportunity to reconnect with my family – I’ve got two sons that live in Toronto and I wasn’t seeing much of them and I get to reconnect as a father. My wife, unfortunately, has a mother who has dementia. She’s in her eighties in Vancouver and it allows Jinder (his wife) to go home easily from Toronto versus the long ride from London.

Q: What would you say your principal goals are now that you’re back here with Tennis Canada?

MD: I think it’s a couple of things – this is not a turn-around. This is a great organization and the sport’s in a good place. I think it’s just about to work through the people to make the organization and the people better. Specifically it’s about how do we keep juicing the engine in high performance because it’s so darn good. Louis Borfiga (vice-president for high performance athlete development) has a world-class program and the next step is how do we make sure the next generation of players actually exceeds their own expectations and that we see a bevy of Canadians in the Top 100, the Top 50, the Top 10. I think that’s clearly one of the goals.

The other one that’s important is just making sure that the inspiration that these great players are driving in terms of wanting people to play tennis – capture that inspiration and make sure there are good programs on the ground from a grassroots end. We want to make sure there are more kids playing tennis because the kids are the future of our sport. If you can introduce them early they’re more likely to play as adults and, if there are more kids playing tennis, there’s probably more Milos Raonics out there, more Eugenie Bouchards out there. So it serves two purposes – grassroots growth but also the fuel for the engine of the pipeline for kids in high performance.

Q: Three and a half years with the LTA in London – you’re kind of right in the middle of everything in international tennis. What do you think you learned about the game worldwide, the way it’s run and the business of it?

MD:  It’s interesting – I wasn’t sure what I’d find. It reinforced to me how good things are in Canada. The LTA is a great organization, the All England Club/Wimbledon is a great organization but, you know what, Tennis Canada does a lot of things world class. I look at the high performance program here – it is well-recognized. The British coaches were talking about the program that Louis Borfiga runs and the next generation – the Denis’s and the Felix’s and the Bianca’s that are coming up actually. I think being in a global environment made me appreciate more the really good things that Tennis Canada is doing with partners in this country.

And I think the other things it did was it reinforced, quite frankly, tennis is tennis. The issues that the LTA were facing were a lot of the same issues that we’re facing here in tennis. A lot of the issues that Wimbledon and our (British) major events on grass were facing are the same issues that we’re facing here in Toronto and Montreal with our major events.

Tennis is a global sport but most of the federations are facing the same type of issues to make sure the sport is healthy moving forward.



During the National Bank Challenger in Granby last week, Philip Bester announced that he would be retiring from tennis after the Odlum Brown VanOpen in his hometown of Vancouver later this month.

The 28-year-old showed a lot of promise as a junior reaching the French Open final (Martin Klizan) in 2006 and there were hopes he could make it big. That happens to young players, especially with ones with stylish games like Bester’s featuring a one-handed backhand, and that put a lot of pressure on him in his early years.

He first appeared in the rankings in 2004 and reached a singles high of No. 225 in 2015 and doubles best of No. 140 in 2016.

Probably the highlight of his career was a win in the fifth and decisive match of an Americas Zone Davis Cup tie in Ecuador in July 2011. The picture above shows Bester hugging teammate Vasek Pospisil in the locker room right after the match, with Daniel Nestor and captain Martin Laurendeau nearby.

It was a huge win and enabled Canada to go on and play, and win, a World Group Play-off that September in Israel – propelling it into the 2012 World Group, a spot it will attempt to retain for the seventh consecutive year when it faces India in a World Group Play-off from September 15-17.

Bester defeated Ivan Endara in Guayaquil 6-2, 7-6(4), 6-4 to enable Canada to win 3-2 after trailing 2-0 following a pair of singles losses on the opening day. But he paid a price for the win, which was crucial in Canada’s Davis Cup history. He injured his hand during the match and didn’t play again for seven months.

This is the statement Bester made last Wednesday about his decision:

“I’ve come to the end of my tennis journey and am closing the chapter in my competitive career. The game of tennis has given me a once in a lifetime opportunity, which I am extremely grateful for as it has shaped me into the person I am today through all my experiences.

“I am at peace with this decision and excited to move forward and pursue the next challenges and opportunities in my life. I would like to thank my family for all the sacrifices and support they have made and given me throughout my career. A special thank you to my father Alek Bester, Rufus Nel and Jon Sorbo for being the coaches who made me into the player I am. Tennis Canada and the IMG Bollettieri Academy for all their support. And lastly to all the countless people who have stood by my side through thick and thin and believed in me not only as a player but also as a person with their support.”

Bester has been a close friend and frequent doubles partner of Peter Polansky. In the somewhat grainy photo above he’s commiserating with Polansky a day or two before that Davis Cup tie in Ecuador. A disappointed Polansky was unable to play because of injury and his friend was trying to lift his spirits.

As he leaves the professional game, Bester will be remembered as a resilient competitor and a good guy. One example of the latter was when he chose to change equipment sponsors part way through his career. Many players just switch and barely acknowledge the contribution of the people and companies who had previously helped them. But not Bester – he made a specific appointment to meet the representative of the company to personally inform him he was leaving and also to express his thanks for past support. Not all his peers would have been as considerate or professional. It shows the character of the man – something that should stand him in good stead as he enters the post-tennis phase of his life.

These two played a famous “Challenge Match” on February 2, 1975, with the 22-year-old Jimmy Connors beating a 36-year-old Rod Laver 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Falsely advertized by the CBS television network as a ‘winner-take-all’ confrontation, Connors received $100,000 while Laver got $60,000, the biggest payday of his career. Laver turns 79 on August 9th while Connors will be 65 on September 2.