The historic Grand Slam victory of 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu over tennis heavyweight Serena Williams at the US Open in September will long be remembered, and could serve as a catalyst for future generations of Canadian athletes to excel not only in tennis, but in all sports. As both a female multisport athlete and the daughter of an immigrant family from Romania, she stands as a shining example of what’s possible within an inclusive sporting context.
"Here is yet another great example of Canadian athleticism. Bianca participated in multiple sports as she was growing up, and this is the foundation for athlete development and those moving toward the performance pathway. What really stands out for me is Bianca's focus and grit during the games. She has an uncanny way of bouncing back when something doesn't go her way, " said Carolyn Trono, Sport for Life's Director of Quality Sport Development.
"A few years ago at the Sport for Life Canadian Summit, Debbie Kirkwood of Tennis Canada predicted that there would be lots of talent coming up in their system due to some of the modifications they made as a result of creating a Tennis Canada Long-Term Development framework. As it turns out, she was right.”
Kirkwood is one of the pioneers at Tennis Canada who has been working to create the right environment for an athlete like Bianca to flourish. As Director of High Performance she has overseen efforts to incorporate Sport for Life’s Long-Term Development framework into their operations over the past two decades.
Andreescu’s killer performance in 2019 is only one outcome of that work, and there’s an exciting number of up-and-comers chomping at her heels including Leylah Fernandez, Katherine Sebov, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“The Long-Term Development framework has been one of the most impactful development initiatives that our organization has undertaken in the past decade. It has been fully integrated into everything we do in tennis,” Kirkwood said.
“Bianca’s talent and determination are undeniable, and she exemplifies the qualities that we try to foster here at Tennis Canada. As we’ve seen, her spirit is absolutely contagious and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flood of interest in tennis in the coming years. I can’t think of a better role model for the next generation of tennis stars, and for every Canadian youngster with a dream.”
Andreescu is only one example of success from a program that is routinely churning out champions. The pathway that led to these outcomes has been laid out for years according to Tennis Canada’s CEO Michael Downey, and required a purposeful vision.
“We didn’t hope that Canadian tennis could reach the highest international levels; we planned for Canadian tennis to reach the highest international levels,” he said.
“Now Canada has its first Grand Slam singles champion and potential world #1, along with the #1 junior girl in the world. Multiple young men ranked in the Top 30, and Canada is in the Davis Cup Finals. But Long-Term Development goes beyond high performance. With the help of many partners we have significantly increased the participation numbers of youth playing tennis, necessitating our current focus to increase the number of affordable and accessible covered courts in Canada.”
With this construction initiative and others like it, Downey hopes to enable more Canadians to play tennis year round. And as Sport for Life CEO Richard Way sees it, this systemic change has meant they don’t have to choose between increased participation and excellence. They can have both.
“Tennis Canada is one of the best examples we have of a program that’s achieved a proper balance of cultivating talent, practicing inclusion and raising the bar when it comes to quality sport. Their achievements speak for themselves, and we couldn’t be happier to have played a role. We applaud the coaches, administrators and volunteers for creating a system in which athletes like Bianca, Leylah, Denis, Katherine and Felix can truly flourish.”
Photo courtesy of Tennis Canada