MONTREAL – Leyla Fernandez is the biggest name in Canadian sport right now.
The power, the speed, that indomitable spirit – remarkable for any player, let alone someone who just turned 19.
The whole world is wondering how Canadians – and Quebecers in particular – got so good at tennis.
And the answer begins, from all places, on the baseball field.
FROM DIAMOND TO COURT
Jarry Park hosted the Montreal Expos between 1969 and 1976.
But after the Expos left for the Olympic Stadium, Jarry Park began hosting tennis tournaments.
Eugène Lapierre, vice-president of Tennis Canada, said the sport’s governing body didn’t like tennis to take place in an old baseball stadium, so they built a brand new tennis stadium.
“From there it really took off,” he said. “I mean the tournament was so successful, and we were able to put so much more money into the game after that.”
Part of this money was spent on building a national tennis center. Shortly after it opened in 2007, it began producing tennis stars.
“One of the first students we had was Milos Raonic and he reached the final at Wimbledon,” said Lapierre.
Génie Bouchard trained there, as did 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andrescu.
Without forgetting Félix Auger-Aliassime and Leylah Fernandez, also passing through.
“I think we’ve started a trend, I hope it will continue,” said Lapierre.
Lapierre says part of the success has been attracting great players, who he says have their heads on their shoulders.
But he believes the secret weapon is the centre’s vice president of high performance, Louis Borfiga.
“The guy was in charge, for 20 years in France, of all the best French players.”
He says Borfiga has made it clear to Canadian players that they can win at the highest level.
“Canadians are no longer afraid of what they can do on the international stage.
TSN tennis analyst Mark Masters says it ultimately comes down to the player and Canada continues to find gems.
“Canada is a country of immigrants. This generation of players is all tied to immigrant stories, they are all children of immigrants, ”he said. “Dennis Shapovalov, his parents are from the Soviet Union via Israel, Milos Raonic via Montenegro, Fernandez with an Ecuadorian father and a mother of Filipino origin.”
“Even more than the national tennis center, Canada has given these players a chance to pursue their dreams.”