Emilio Gomez (pictured) from Ecuador won the tournament.
Emilio Gomez (pictured) from Ecuador won the tournament.
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Tennis, anyone?

The Winnipeg National Bank Challenger and Tennis Manitoba are making ‘net gains’

When your de facto directors of marketing are Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, your job is a lot easier than it used to be.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of Tennis Canada with the success of our pro players,” says Mark Arndt, executive director of Tennis Manitoba. “They’re doing the marketing for us. They’re making tennis an easy sell.” 

Tennis is booming in the province like it never has before with capital expenditures reaching an all-time high as new and existing facilities are gearing up for what they believe will be an influx of new players.

And the dream is one of the racquet newbies—or hopefully more—will one day compete in the Winnipeg National Bank Challenger, the city’s lone professional tennis event, which wrapped up a week of top-notch competition on Aug. 1.

Ground broke later that month on the Tennis Manitoba Hub at West St. Paul, a $5-million facility just north of the Perimeter Highway that will cut the ribbon on five new outdoor courts—including a stadium court—next year with four more indoor courts on the docket for 2024.

This is the first new build for a tennis facility in decades. It will feature integrated seating for tournaments, two courts with feature lighting and industry-leading draining infrastructure.

And the new owners of Taylor Tennis Club, the biggest indoor facility between Calgary and Toronto with 10 hard courts, are making a big splash with a string of new renovations, including a new gym, new court lighting and structural upgrades.

Arndt has also overseen the resurfacing of more than 60 public courts throughout Winnipeg over the last eight years.

This year’s edition of the National Bank Challenger was the biggest since Winnipeg first starting hosting professional tennis players a decade ago. The USD $58,000 tournament was held at the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the first time since 2019 because of COVID-19 restrictions. (It will move to the Tennis Hub next year.)

Nearly 30 local businesses, including Volvo Cars Winnipeg, Quintex Services, Shippam & Associates, Blue Cross and Davren Canadian Spring Water, stepped up and paid anywhere from $500 to $10,000 in support. “Without them, this event doesn’t happen,” says Arndt, who is also chair and co-owner of the Challenger tournament.

Challenger Tour events, which are one step below the ATP world tour, exclude players ranked in the top 70 but exceptions are made in the case of injury. This year, for example, former world No. 14 Kyle Edmund, played here as he recovers from a knee injury. Hart Pollack, co-owner of the tournament, is quick to note the crucial role that Tennis Canada plays, too.

“Tennis Canada’s priorities for these tournaments is to give Canadians a chance to play at a high level that they wouldn’t otherwise qualify for. Every wildcard goes to a Canadian. When you play against better players, that’s how you get better,” he says.

There’s perhaps no better example than Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, who played in Winnipeg in 2016, and is now ranked in the top 10 in the world. He recently defeated both long-time world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and U.S. open champion and new top-ranked player in the world, Carlos Alcaraz, in the span of 10 days in September.

The Winnipeg event also enables players to earn valuable ranking points, which can then catapult them into other events around the world.

This year’s biggest local sponsor is M Builds, a Winnipeg-based construction management company that focuses on institutional, retail, multi-family and industrial projects. Partner Tony Nocita says he believed investing in sports would pay dividends 10 years ago when he first got involved and he believes it even more today.

“We’re busy with quite a few initiatives around the city. A tournament like this is really good for us. It puts our name out there and over the years, we’ve had a lot of people thank us for being involved,” he says.

There has likely been a positive impact on the business but that’s far from the primary reason for stroking a cheque, he says.

“It’s important for us to get behind local initiatives. That’s the benefit. It’s nice to be recognized but we do it because we want to make sure the tournament gets off on the right foot every year. We like the fact it was small, local, something that could grow,” he says.


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