Gyles Dias/Tennis Canada
Beginning Sunday, the Saguenay National Bank Challenger will make its much-anticipated return to the World Tennis Tour following a three-year absence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The popular $60,000 women’s tournament on the ITF World Tennis Tour has received a great deal of support through the years from tennis fans in Saguenay, a region north of Quebec City, and the event will celebrate its 15th anniversary in style over the next week.
The list of players coming to town for the occasion is once again top notch with athletes from around the world set to compete at the revamped Saguenay Indoor Tennis Club. Leading the way is Moyuka Uchijima of Japan, ranked no. 113 in the world. The 21-year-old reached the quarter-finals of the WTA 250 event in Monastir, Tunisia last week before falling to Elise Mertens. She has already won 43 singles matches this season. Seeded second will be world no. 145 Arianne Hartono of the Netherlands who beat Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in Vancouver this summer. Round out the top 3 is American Robin Anderson, ranked no. 170 on the WTA rankings. The 29-year-old has played in Saguenay before, reaching the final in 2019, the last time the tournament was played. In the spring, she was crowned champion of a $60,000 ITF tournament on clay in Orlando. She also qualified for the main draw in Charleston on the WTA Tour.
There will be a few more familiar names in this year’s draw including former world no. 29 Urszula Radwanska of Poland, the younger sister of former world no. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska. She is a two-time WTA singles finalist and represented her country at the Olympic Games in 2012 in London. Meanwhile, Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer will also be coming to town. The 32-year-old achieved her best singles ranking of no. 12 in 2010 and has won five WTA singles titles during her impressive career.
The Canadian Content
It should come as no surprise that Canada will be well-represented, starting with former Saguenay champion Katherine Sebov. The 23-year-old, ranked no. 273, has put together a successful 2022 campaign on the ITF World Tennis Tour including one final and three other semifinal appearances. She also earned a main draw wild card for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers this summer and pushed Yulia Putintseva to three sets in the opening round. Four years ago, she made an improbable run to capture the biggest title of her career thanks to a win over Quirine Lemoine in the final.
Sebov will be joined by her young compatriots Cadence Brace, Kayla Cross, and Marina Stakusic. All three players enjoyed some memorable moments at the professional level this summer in Winnipeg, Toronto, Granby and Vancouver.
Tournament organizers will mark their 15th anniversary with some improvements that are sure to impress both the players and the spectators who, remaining true to their reputation, are expected to come out in large numbers.
For starters, the club had all of its lighting redone with LEDs which helps the event exceed the norms established by Tennis Canada and the ITF for court lighting. They have also brought four new sponsors into the fold this year which will help expand the reach of the tournament and allow the team to continue to innovate going forward.
A Rich History
Since its first edition in 2006, the Saguenay National Bank Challenger has welcomed some of the most recognizable names in women’s tennis before they became famous with the tournament ultimately serving as a springboard to propel their careers.
Multiple Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber was crowned champion during the inaugural year and again during the following one in 2007. In 2010, Canadian Rebecca Marino captured top honours thanks to a victory over Alison Riske at the final hurdle. In 2012, Bouchard advanced to the final before her big WTA breakthrough in 2014. She finished as the runner-up to former U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys in a marquee matchup. In 2013, current world no. 2 Ons Jabeur lifted the trophy after defeating Coco Vandeweghe in the championship match. Other notable Saguenay alumni include Jessica Pegula, Bianca Andreescu, and Leylah Annie Fernandez, who won the doubles title in 2019 alongside her compatriot Mélodie Collard.
It will be fun to watch which unfamiliar names will emerge and be discovered during this year’s tournament. Regardless of the players in the draw, it’s exciting to have professional tennis back in Saguenay for what promises to be another memorable edition of an event which has become a main attraction on the Canadian tennis calendar.