Before Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep became Grand Slam champions, they honed their skills in the minor leagues of tennis - the International Tennis Federation World Tours for men and women and the ATP Challenger Tour.
These events offer prize money ranging from $15,000 to $100,000 but, more importantly, they offer ranking points. They serve as the entry point for young players like Leylah Annie Fernandez and Félix Auger-Aliassime and, more recently, they have allowed one-time superstar Eugenie Bouchard a chance to regain her confidence and turn her career around.
They are important to the development of young players and that’s why it was disappointing when Tennis Canada announced the cancellation of three Challenger-level events in early 2021 because of concern over COVID-19. Men’s events in Calgary and Drummondville, Quebec., disappeared from the calendar along with a women’s event in Fredericton.
While recreational players have thankfully been able to return to the courts with some restrictions, it’s far more challenging to run tournaments with a large number of players and necessary support personnel.
The U.S. Open, the French Open and some other events in Europe have been able to proceed but at a cost which is prohibitive for smaller events and that will have an adverse effect on the development of young players.
The cancellation of smaller events in Canada and the U.S. is a reflection of the fact there is still work to be done in containing the virus as we experience a second wave
There were only a handful of junior tournaments in either country this year and unless we get a handle on the virus, there will be a gaping hole in the good work Canada had done in developing tennis players to a world-class standard.
It’s another reason for folks in the tennis community to wear a mask so we can beat the virus and the kids can get back to beating the world.