Aerial shot of three courts next to each other

Photo : Paul Rivard

One wild card for the qualifying tournament, 16 players vying for it and four days of competition.  

From July 31 to August 3, 16 of Canada’s most promising up-and-comers battled at IGA Stadium in Montréal for their ticket to the qualifying event of the National Bank Open (NBO).  

Far from media cameras is the reality of the young players who dream of breaking through and taking on the best.  

And Tennis Canada (TC) believes that’s exactly the type of reward that can serve as a motivator and even as the extra incentive that ends up really paying off for them.  


According to Sylvain Bruneau, TC’s Women’s Tennis Lead Consultant, that’s been the philosophy for years.  

“It’s a lot of people for just one wild card, but we think it’s a great reward,” Sylvain said. “We also think it’s good for the group dynamic because it goes beyond the four days of pre-qualifying matches. We started with a training camp, and then they were invited to tournaments in Saskatoon and Granby. And now this. So it’s a month-long program of events that gives them a framework for training and competition. There’s no prize money or ranking points, but there’s the chance to play in the qualifying rounds of a major WTA tournament.” 

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Through the years, Bruneau has observed that the winner of the pre-qualies moves on to the next step with confidence. “She’ll already have four matches under her belt at the tournament itself. And that’s a plus since her eventual rival will have had a few days off when she arrives in Montréal,” he explained.  

Photo : Paul Rivard 

The event itself is run like a professional competition. “There are chair umpires, linespeople and ball kids,” he said. “The goal is to make the experience as close to reality as possible because the next step for the young winner is an opponent ranked around No. 100.” 

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Sylvain makes a point of attending every match over the four days. After all, the next Eugenie Bouchard, Bianca Andreescu or Leylah Fernandez could very well be among the competitors.  

The wild card is just a start. “You don’t have to think back very far: last year, Marina Stakusic won the mini-tournament and went on to win her first qualifying match. She defeated No. 68 Xinyu Wang of China before losing to No. 71 Tereza Martincova of Czechia. It was an incredible experience for her.” 

Marina will attempt to do it again this year since she earned a wild card for the qualifying tournament. And she didn’t even have to engage in the ultimate showdown on August 3 against Mia Kupres.  

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As fate would have it, an extra spot in the qualifiers opened up, the final was cancelled and both players got to move on.  

Photo : Sarah-Jade Champagne

“These matches help build confidence through the tournament,” Mia said. “If you earn your spot there, even if you got a wildcard, you feel that you belong there because you fought your way to get there. And you’re familiar with the conditions. It definitely gives some sort of an advantage for us.” 


Bruneau mentions a very particular aspect of the pre-qualifying event: the players are up against their teammates, some of which are their close friends.  

Photo : Paul Rivard 
Photo : Paul Rivard 

And in one particular case, that friend also happens to be a sister. 

Standing behind Sylvain Bruneau in this photo is 16-year-old Naomi Xu of Montréal. Her older sister 19-year-old Annabelle Xu, who spent the past year competing for the University of Virginia, was also in action this week.  

As the luck of the draw would have it, the sisters (in their matching shoes) went head-to-head in their first match.  

Photo : Paul Rivard 

At the outcome of several exciting rallies, Anabelle won (6-2, 6-3) despite some pain in her right shoulder.  

Afterwards, the two did their post-match interview together. The first question was about competing as sisters, of course. 

“I was disappointed, obviously,” Anabelle said. “What are the chances that, out of the 14 other players, I’d end up against my sister? We often train together, and I came here to play matches and face other opponents.” 

“My first reaction… I burst out laughing because it was so ironic! I didn’t even think we’d be in the same half of the draw. Like her, I came here to play against other girls. It’s never fun to compete against your sister, especially your older sister!” Naomi said with a laugh. 

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Given her age and experience, Annabelle was the favourite going in. Still, both players had to be mindful of the dangers that lay ahead. Annabelle couldn’t go in thinking it would be a cakewalk, and Naomi couldn’t go in thinking it was a losing battle.    

“From the get-go, I told myself it would be a match against another player and not a training session with my sister,” Annabelle added.  

Naomi felt much the same way. “I told myself I had to trust myself and forget that it was my sister on the other side. It wasn’t easy because I usually want Annabelle to win every match—against other players! But there, on the court, I had to adapt. I just tried to play my best tennis.” 

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In the second set, Annabelle needed a medical timeout. During the break, Naomi stayed focused by reading her notes and staying up-to-date on the other matches that were going on.  

Was she worried? 

Photo : Paul Rivard 

“For sure,” she said. “First, I’d seen her bandage and knew she had a problem with her shoulder. And I hoped she wouldn’t aggravate her injury and our match wouldn’t just come to an end like that. Beyond that, I tried to stay focused.” 


Annabelle Xu had solid results at the ITF W 100 Granby National Bank Championships where she won her opening match. 

And so did Leylah Fernandez’s 19-year-old sister Bianca, who’s currently ranked no. 624.  

Photo : Paul Rivard 
Photo : Paul Rivard 

In the pre-qualifying tournament, Fernandez won her first two matches but lost to Kupres in the third round (4-6, 7-6(1), 6-1). 

Earlier, Kupres also overpowered Xu 7-6(4), 6-3. 


NBO tournament director Valérie Tétreault, who happened to pass by the courts, confirmed what Sylvain Bruneau said about the pre-qualifying tournament being TC’s long-standing tradition.  

“If I remember correctly, I played in the pre-qualifiers twice,” she said. “In 2004, when I was 16 and it was my first time at the tournament. I don’t remember how many matches I had to win, but I managed to get that wild card for the qualifying rounds. Then, in the first round, I lost to an American player named Lyndsay Lee-Waters.” 

Photo : Aaron Harris/Presse Canadienne 

That qualifying match was Valérie’s very first time on Centre Court in Montréal. “I remember feeling like it was a childhood dream of mine coming true at the tournament I’d been going to since I was eight years old,” she added.  

Later, in 2008, Valérie ran into a familiar face. 

“I was up against a very promising junior named Eugenie Bouchard in the final round. At 14, Genie was much younger than I was, and I ended up winning. But it was a tough three-setter.”