Between them, the men’s and women’s tennis tours make more than 120 stops during a calendar year. Aside from the Grand Slams, and presuming no Canadian is in the mix on the final weekend, they make about as much impression up here as professional darts.
When Eugenie Bouchard wins, say, the Nuernberger Versicherungscup (as she did in May), we say, ‘How wonderful. Which one of those two words is the city?’ For long stretches of time, that rule also applied to the Rogers Cup. This wasn’t a tennis tournament so much as a voguish petting zoo.
You showed up. Had your one chance of the year to wear a straw boater and not look like a total dork. Got to tell the grandkids that you saw Roger Federer or Serena Williams in the flesh.
No one was genuinely invested in the results. They came to experience some small part of greatness at first-hand.
Because, let’s be serious – aside from the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, a perishing few of us ever watch tennis. Even when we watch tennis, it’s not entirely about the tennis. We watch tennis because of the stakes and the glamour. There are no stakes and little glamour in Toronto and Montreal.
This year was a chance to change that. That chance was spectacularly untaken.
The theme of the 2014 national sports conversation has been, “Canada. More than hockey. (Also, still really great at hockey.)”
Basketball is part of that, but a long way from paying off. Seeing Andrew Wiggins drafted first over all in the NBA Draft was a wonderful fist-pump moment until we realized that no one cared except the United States. There are only so many times we can stick it to the U.S. before it gets boring.
Basketball as a going Canadian concern won’t feel real until the national men’s team is deep into a world championship or an Olympics, and that won’t be for years.
Tennis is more promising on two fronts. Our emergence is imminent, and the whole world feels possessive about it.
In the same way Federer has given Switzerland a global identity beyond cuckoo clocks and shocking customer service, Bouchard and Milos Raonic are on the cusp of moving Canada beyond moose.
Have you ever seen a foreign tourist brochure for Canada? I’ll bet you good money it’s got a moose in there somewhere, and probably on the cover.
When was the last time you saw a moose?
A week ago, the Rogers Cup felt like an important signpost on that route. Sure, it would’ve been us celebrating ourselves, but if that was an issue, Canada would never get invited to any parties.
This was a bugling, honest-to-God, Dudley Do-Right national moment in the making. We were going to … well, not embarrass ourselves. And then we sort of embarrassed ourselves.
Bouchard showed up for a first-round match against an American qualifier and gave up. Mid-collapse, mics caught the 20-year-old telling her coach she wanted to “leave the court.”
Every athlete has days when they don’t feel up to it. Regardless of her age and experience, Bouchard can’t have one of them in Montreal. She’s got a dozen other tournaments during the year she can implode in. In Canada, she needs to plough through. If you watched any of her in that disastrous third set, she’d already left the court. She’d only forgotten to bring her body with her.
After being thrashed by Federer in the Wimbledon semis, Raonic arrived having just won in Washington and nursing a post-Wimbledon grudge. That seemed hopeful. He was gifted a preposterously easy draw. That seemed even better.
Then he staggered through three rounds of play, looking harried and out of sorts. This was the old, serve-well-or-die Raonic. He didn’t serve very well.
Aside from Raonic, the other eight Canadians who played in the main draw managed a total of one win.
This was all a reminder of what Canadian tennis used to look like – plucky and bad. In any other year, that’s a collective shoulder shrug. This year? It’s a small disaster. If we’re going to run ’round shouting about a Canadian tennis naissance (no need for a ‘re’), we have to be able to admit when it’s gone wrong.
We couldn’t quite manage that.
Asked if this was a disappointment from a local perspective, Toronto tournament director Karl Hale said, “I’m really happy you’re asking that question, because how soon we forget. Five years ago, you wouldn’t be asking that question. It’s great that we have these Canadians that are doing so well on a global scale. They had a good tournament.”
In order: You’re welcome. True. Also true. And come again?
Canada did not have a good tournament here. Not one of them did.
Last year, Vasek Pospisil made a semi. Raonic made the final. Bouchard entered as a wild card and lost to a Wimbledon champion.
This time around, with everyone finally paying full attention, they face-planted.
If, in three weeks’ time, Raonic and Bouchard are cutting swaths through the U.S. Open, this failure will be completely forgotten.
But it will only prove the point this tournament’s organizers had hoped to finally get past this week – only the majors matter, even to the emerging Canadian pros the Rogers Cup so heavily leans its identity on.