For the team at Tennis Canada, finally seeing the world’s best back on court for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto means one thing—Their relentless pursuit to restore the event to the calendar for 2021 has been well worth it.
Behind the scenes the intricately detailed program takes about a year of planning under normal circumstances. After a rollercoaster year that saw the event postponed in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, collaborating with governments, event partners and suppliers to make the event a reality this year required an immense amount of work, admits Gavin Ziv, managing director of the tournament.
“I think what you learn throughout this process is you can’t take things for granted as it takes a lot of work to get something like this pulled off properly and done well,” said Ziv. “It’s an immense thank you to all of our staff, volunteers, suppliers and sponsors –all the people that it really took to pull this one off. It does take a village and tennis is no exception.”
Planning was in full swing well before the reopening framework was realized in the province. Exploring various potential scenarios early on put the team in the best position to hit the ground running once the event was given the green light. In December the federal government outlined the process for international sporting events including the necessary approvals to bring athletes into the country and the various exemptions and requirements. With ongoing communications with the provincial minister’s office and Toronto Public Health over several months, as the reopening framework progressed into stage three, the way forward became clear.
“We got to a point where we just had to take a risk and start really investing in our program,” said Ziv. “From the operations standpoint, you can’t pull this off with one week’s notice. A couple of months ago the Tennis Canada board decided we’re going full steam ahead. Whether we get approvals or not, we have to be ready to run.”
It wasn’t until late July that the federal government and Public Health Agency of Canada officially approved plans to host the event. The team had projected that a broadcast only event would be the most possible option for this year’s tournament. Getting clearance to have about 5,000 people per session in the days leading into the event has been a major boost for fans and supporters of the tournament and especially the athletes.
For meet director Karl Hale, walking the grounds of the Sobeys Stadium, and meeting with the top international players and Canadian stars as they arrive, brings a welcome and familiar feeling. Their upbeat energy, and excitement to be back in Canada he says is a sign that things are moving back to normal. Involved with the tournament for 15 years now, Hale has built a close relationship with many players around the world and saw first hand the emotional and financial toll the pandemic has taken on many of them. Now well accustomed to pandemic protocols, for the athletes, having the support from the stands again has been a refreshing game shifter.
“They’re just really excited to compete and to be back in Toronto because the players really like coming to our event and looking forward to having a great tournament in front of fans,” said Hale. “The interesting thing I think more so than the strict protocols that we are enforcing, is that the bigger question for the athletes was, ‘Are we going to have fans or not?’ It’s interesting to see how important it is to them to have that interaction experience.”
The National Bank Open will celebrate the 140th anniversary of the men’s event in Toronto this year amidst a number of changes. With a new sponsor onboard, the annual Rogers Cup tennis tournament is now called the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto and in Montreal. COVID-19 has also expedited several technological advancements including virtual contactless ticketing, parking passes, and onsite food ordering through the National Bank Open app.
As part of athlete bubble protocols, the event grounds will not be open to fans this year. What will be the same however, is what’s most important, the incredible atmosphere on Centre Court and the quality of performance the players have been bringing year after year.
“The world-class tennis experience that you get to see in Toronto every summer will be just as fantastic this year,” said Ziv. “When you’ve got (Daniil) Medvedev one of the top players in the world with Rafa (Rafael Nadal) right behind him, plus exciting Canadians with Denis (Shapovalov) and Felix (Auger-Aliassime), you’re going to see the best in the business on the courts here. The experience in the stadium is going to be as fantastic as it has always been.”
Also fantastic is the deeper bond forged by the team at Tennis Canada through the struggles of the past year. With a common goal and passion for the event and for the game of tennis, the joy at seeing all their efforts come to fruition this week has brought them closer together.
“We are a family and as a family we had to work extra hard to make this one a reality,” said Ziv. “I’m just really proud of everyone. I think it’s going to be a little bittersweet and emotional to run this one, because it’s been so much effort.”