The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Cashmere  Behind the Baseline: Ziv shares joy of NBO22 and vision for the future

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August 14, 2022
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Standing on Centre Court with a Serena Williams tribute plaque in hand, it finally hit the National Bank Open presented by Rogers managing director, Gavin Ziv, that Toronto had just watched the 23-time Grand Slam champion play for the last time.

A master at thinking several steps ahead, what Ziv did not foresee was that Williams would announce her impending retirement smack in the middle of the tournament. The Toronto event was given the honour of officially marking the beginning of her farewell to tennis. Her love for the city is that real.

The fans showed up in full force for her round two defeat to Belinda Bencic, but the outcome was irrelevant. For everyone in Sobeys Stadium on that night, watching her play was a gift in itself. The first tournament back after the 2020 cancellation and 2021 modified pandemic bubble event instantly became one of the most memorable in history. As Ziv puts another successful championship to bed, the reality of the end of the Williams era is finally setting in.

“The ceremony was emotional,” said Ziv about presenting Williams, who won the event three times (2001, 2011, 2013), with a tribute plaque and flowers with the executive team at Tennis Canada following the match. “We were so busy planning, wondering if she was going to win the match or not and how (the ceremony) was going to work for TV, we were kind of busy. Then you get on the court and suddenly you realize, this is it. This is actually her last professional event in Canada. It was emotional and to see her break down with tears, I mean I think the whole crowd felt it and probably millions watching on TV.  It was a really nice tribute and also really sad that this was maybe going to be her last time here. We were also just happy for all those great memories.”

With Simona Halep freshly crowned NBO22 Champion, Ziv is already thinking about how to make the tournament bigger and better. The August event has long been favourite on the tour for its exceptional player and fan experience. As the dynamic team at Tennis Canada has been on execution mode throughout the tournament, Ziv has been busy overseeing the operations, with his eyes set on growing the National Bank Open presented by Rogers to the upper echelon of 1000 events.

“When I walk around and I’m meeting with players, suppliers, vendors and TV production, I’m asking about how we can get better,” said Ziv. “I get a lot of steps in. I get very little sleep. I don’t get to watch a lot of tennis, unfortunately until the final day, Sunday. It’s just one of those management things where someone has to keep their eye on the future.”

If anyone understands the National Bank Open and all its facets, it’s Ziv. Running the event since 2015, he started with the tournament in 1987 when he was selected to the ball crew at 11 years old. At 18 he joined the committee organizing the ball kids, and just a year later was offered the role of Committee Head attending meetings at Tennis Canada throughout the year and absorbing the business aspect of the sport. Though he was unsure at the time whether he wanted to accept the opportunity, a somewhat serendipitous moment may have foreshadowed his destiny as Managing Director.

“I remember talking to the two gentlemen who were the Committee Heads at the time, and they said, ‘Would you be interested in becoming a Committee Head?’  I said, ‘I’m not sure.’  They said, ‘Well, listen, it doesn’t really matter because in some time, not that long from now, you’re going to be running this tournament.’ Maybe they really were serious or maybe they were just kind of having fun with me, but it almost became my goal at that point.”

Ziv worked his way through the ranks at Tennis Canada with a focus on mastering every aspect of the operations and running events. From working the parking lots, accreditation, player services, volunteer program, to TV production, Ziv has done it all.

He joined the senior management team at Tennis Canada in 2015 and was promoted to take over responsibility for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto. Mastering the operations and growth of tennis internationally, he’s been able to represent Tennis Canada at international meetings for the ATP and WTA and currently sits on WTA board and ATP media board, broadcast and digital streaming arm. 

Part of plans to expand the tournament into the future include the evolution of the men’s seven day draw event into a more spread out 12 day event in 2025 and working to do the same on the women’s end. The change will move the tournament to the top of the 1000 events on the level of Madrid, Miami and Indian Wells. The goal, he says, is for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers to be the pinnacle summer event for tennis fans around the world. Government funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario is also helping to grow the popularity and development of the sport in Canada. 

“I think we’re in such a growth phase and that mirrors at the same time what’s happening in Canadian tennis, ” said Ziv. “We are in that golden age  where our athletes are doing so well on the international stage. What I want to see on the tournament side is to see that grow. Hopefully the funding helps propel the next generation of not only high performance but grassroots kids playing tennis forward.” 

As Ziv and the team decompresses after an intense time running the memorable event, he looks forward to enjoying time with his wife Jaimie, teenage daughters Emily and Sophie as he continues to plot and plan for the future of Canadian tennis. With all the evolutions he’s witnessed since growing up with the tournament in the 1980’s and the grand plans for the next phase, it’s the intimate, family friendly experience he fell in love with as a boy that remains central to his vision. 

“We keep pushing that bar higher and higher, and everyone’s having a better experience because of that,” said Ziv. “We’re a family here and all our stakeholders are part of that family. We have 1200 volunteers that come back every single year. We’re close knit at Tennis Canada. We’re a small group that punches above our weight class and we work hard to give everyone a good experience.”