In Canada, the answer is increasingly yes as the sport looks to ride the emergence of its national team after its victory over top-ranked Spain in the 2013 Davis Cup Round of 16 matches.
“We’re a legitimate rising tennis power with a major star in Milos Raonic and a bright future,” said Victoria resident Robert Bettauer, the tennis colour analyst for Rogers Sportsnet, who called the 3-2 weekend victory over five-time Davis Cup-champion Spain in Vancouver as Raonic defeated Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 Sunday to give Canada the decisive match victory that propelled it into the World Group quarter-finals.
“We’re suddenly a hot property in Canadian sport. We’re hitting mainstream consciousness as a sport in Canada, but we have to keep producing.”
The next chance comes April 5-7 when Canada hosts Italy in the Davis Cup quarter-finals.
“It’s unbelievable to think that we are one step away from the Davis Cup semifinals,” added Bettauer, three-time Canadian champion and a former Davis Cup player who coached Canada at the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.
This is the first time in 100 years that Canada has advanced this far in the competition. The 1913 Canadian Davis Cup team — comprised solely of Victoria Lawn Tennis Club members Bobby Powell, Bernie Schwengers, J.F. Foulkes, H.C. Myers — defeated Belgium and South Africa in Group play in advancing to centre court at Wimbledon to play in the Davis Cup final against the eventual-champion United States. That is Canada’s best showing in the Davis Cup.
The Spaniards were depleted over the weekend with injuries to superstar Rafael Nadal and world No. 4 David Ferrer, and world top-25 Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco resting, but that’s Spain’s problem. Canada needed to capitalize and did.
Bettauer is CEO of the Victoria-based Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence and said the ripple effects from the success of any Canadian athletes on the world stage can be felt throughout the sporting system.
“This will really give our youth another sport to consider playing and a lot of parents will be looking at tennis as a sport in which to place their children,” he said.
“I’m biased but tennis has so much going for it. It’s a lifetime sport and it’s a gender-equal sport, which are both powerful pluses for a sport. At the entry level, we scale the sport to fit the kids with what is called progressive tennis using lower-bouncing balls, shorter racquets, smaller courts. My daughter and I teach progressive tennis in Victoria and the kids are rallying after the first couple of sessions. That’s when tennis really becomes fun. And kids can go recreational or competitive stream.”
The Davis Cup quarter-final tie against Italy will likely be held at the same UBC arena as the Sweet 16 victory over Spain, said Bettauer, simply because of the short turnaround period and logistical matter of the venue already being set up.
“But I’m very keen to get a future Davis Cup tie played in Victoria,” said Bettauer, who has been lobbying Tennis Canada hard for that.
“Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre is an ideal venue, large enough but intimate, like at UBC. And Victoria has a hugely supportive tennis community. I ran into so many fans over the weekend who had come over to UBC from the Island to watch the matches against Spain. Within a 15-minute bike ride of my home in Gordon Head, I’ve counted 27 public tennis courts all painted and in good shape. That’s remarkable.”
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