Men’s tennis is enjoying a renaissance of late. From the venerable veteran Andre Agassi, to the majestic manoeuvrings of Roger Federer, to the feisty flair of Andy Roddick, the men’s professional tour is evolving into an all-power, all-court slugfest. Forget the predictable sibling or compatriot match-ups of the women’s tour—the ATP Tour is chock-full of talented champions and contenders, and they’ll all be swatting their stuff on the court when the Tennis Masters Canada rolls into Toronto July 24 to August 1.
The 2004 Tennis Masters Canada is set to serve up the elite of the game, with marquee players like Russia’s Marat Safin and Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt ready to vie for the tournament’s $2.45 million (U.S.) purse, though they’ll have to face defending champion, American Andy Roddick, who will be hungry to repeat his winning way. This year’s tournament has even greater appeal for fans and players alike, as the action will be happening in the brand-new Rexall Centre. The world-class facility boasts 12,500 seats (complete with back rests in the grandstand) and is situated in the heart of a 15-acre site that includes 15 other show courts and practice courts.
Anthony Alfred, Tennis Canada’s director of media and public relations, believes the timing is perfect for the shiny new stadium. “For 25 years we were blessed with many great champions on the old court,” he says. “But clearly, the best in men’s tennis will be here to help us initiate our new facility.” Indeed, the previous champions list reads like a who’s who of tennis royalty, including Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Agassi. But the new facility isn’t the only upgrade to this year’s tournament. As if being a Masters tournament wasn’t enough (the Masters series consists of nine elite-level tournaments one tier below the four grand slams), Tennis Masters Canada is now part of the newly formed U.S. Open Series. The new association is designed to boost the profile of the summer hardcourt season leading up to the final grand slam of the year, the U.S. Open. Players are given a hefty incentive to participate in the 10 series tournaments—bonus prize money. For 2004, the mens champion of the U.S. Open Series (results will be cumulative) will receive one and a half times the prize money they win at the U.S. Open. Hardly chump change, that’s for sure. Fine, so there’s a fabulous new facility and a high profile grand slam affiliation, but even the tennis non-savvy can enjoy their time at the tournament. Starting with Family Day on Sunday, July 25 (free admission), the list of activities on-site are bound to please even the rookie fan. With live concerts—including the top nine Canadian Idol finalists singing the national anthem at the opening ceremony—tennis clinics, prizes and pro-shops, admission offers much more than just on-court action.Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of the new Rexall Centre is that grassroots tennis in Canada now has a place to prosper. Alfred is excited by this prospect. “The new world-class facility provides us with the necessary revenues to reinvest into the sport to solidify and grow our future champions,” he says. “The tournament gives us the opportunity to get more people on-site and bring more people closer to the sport.” Currently, Canada’s top men’s prospects are 28-year-old veteran Frederic Niemeyer and 19-year-old Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, whose recent victory over Canadian-born but British-playing Greg Rusedski established his name on the tour. But neither man can match the success of Daniel Nestor, Canada’s Olympic gold medallist and doubles specialist who will be playing in the tournament alongside his new Olympic partner (unknown as of press time). If expectations are matched, more than 175,000 people will be in the stands to cheer on the homegrown talent—a tournament attendance record. In terms of value for money, the tournament offers tickets to suit every price range. From the free Family Day to the great-view Gold seats to the corporate Sky Boxes, a ticket provides admission to either three matinee matches or two evening matches on centre court, weather permitting, and includes both singles and doubles draws. But to maximize your viewing pleasure, be sure to wander the grounds and take in some of the show court matches and practice sessions for a more intimate feel of the game. All told, Tennis Masters Canada 2004 is undoubtedly one of the premier sporting events in the city this summer. Don’t miss the flashy power and pure athleticism of the pros as they slice up the famous blue courts of the tour’s only Canadian stop. And who knows, with the swanky new players’ lounge overlooking the grounds, your favourite player may just be watching you too. For tickets, call 416-665-9777 ext. 333 or toll-free at 1-877-2TENNIS or visit www.rexallcentre.com—Krista Peppler is a freelance writer and tennis enthusiast based in London, England.