The Rogers Cup is reaching new heights.
Sunday’s final at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal, which saw third-seed Agnieszka Radwanska beat Venus Williams in straight sets 6-4, 6-2, helped the event break the world record for attendance at a week-long women’s tennis tournament.
The event drew 181,996 spectators, topping the previous Rogers Cup high of 174,706 set in 2006.
Tournament director Eugene Lapierre, who was pleased with breaking the attendance record, wants that number to keep growing.
“There’s still room in the stadium, don’t think otherwise,” said Lapierre, who also serves as vice president of professional tennis in Quebec for Tennis Canada. “We didn’t have sell-outs every single day. For the men’s tournament, we’ve hit an attendance of 215,000. There’s room for more, especially during the first few days of the tournament. We can get a lot of people on site.”
Uniprix Stadium, only the 15th largest stadium in terms of capacity on the Women’s Tennis Association tour, holds more than 15,000 tennis fans between its two largest courts.
Before the Rogers Cup first-round matches had even begun, more than 40,000 fans had made their way to Uniprix Stadium on free practice and qualifying days. On Sunday, there were more than 12,000 supporters on site for the final between Radwanska and Williams.
Lapierre however, knows the tournament would have been an even bigger success if Montreal-born tennis phenom Eugenie Bouchard hadn’t been bumped from the second round.
After earning a first-round bye for being a top-8 seeded player, Bouchard lost in three sets to American qualifier Shelby Rogers on the second day of competition.
“A lot of people would have wanted to come see Eugenie throughout the week, but I don’t know how many, we haven’t yet monitored those numbers,” said Lapierre, who justified the many empty seats in Sunday’s final on Bouchard’s absence.
“We see it with our sports teams in Montreal. Do we love hockey? Yes. But as soon as the Canadiens are out of the playoffs, there aren’t many people watching the remaining games, even if it’s great hockey.”
Lapierre said that Bouchard’s recent outstanding results — the 20-year-old reached all three grand slam semifinals this year — had an impact on ticket sales in the lead-up to the event. The tournament director added that new amateur tennis fans, people who had never bought Rogers Cup tickets before, came to the stadium in droves throughout the week.
But Lapierre, a former tennis player himself, wants supporters to come for the tennis, not just the Canadians on the court.
“Fans need to realize that we have some of the biggest players in the world,” he said. “We never had a Canadian do so well before. Now we have someone who can actually win the tournament. But if even if she loses, it’s not the end of the world. We have the best players in the world.”
On top of Bouchard’s surprise early exit, the Rogers Cup week wasn’t without its twist and turns.
On Tuesday afternoon, a power outage at Uniprix Stadium threw the courts in darkness until early Wednesday. The umpire’s microphone didn’t work, and the Internet was down. Tickets at the gate could no longer be purchased or scanned. All matches, including Bouchard’s, were delayed. When the sun set, generators, which weren’t on hand at the time of the outage, were brought in to light up the stadium.
That meant a lot of lost revenue for Tennis Canada, which owns the Rogers Cup. Lapierre said he wants to make sure something like that never happens again.
“I learned that we need generators,” said Lapierre when asked what he can do differently next year to make the tournament an even bigger success. “In terms of our dependence on energy, that will become a focal point now. Something like that had never happened before in 35 years.
“We’ll definitely see how we can become completely independent.”
Despite the pitfalls, the Rogers Cup is still one of the favourites for players on the WTA tour. Runner-up Venus Williams had nothing but praise for the city.
“This is my favourite city. I love it,” said Williams, who’s still seeking her first tournament victory of the season. “I think I was hitting some balls on Sunday, and I couldn’t believe the massive number of fans here. I’ve never seen anything like it, even at a major.
“As much as I love Toronto, I wish the women’s tournament was here every year. I would love to continue my winning ways in Canada, in Quebec, so I’m looking forward to it.”