Photo: Peter Power
Wanda Restivo is in her 46th year volunteering with the National Bank Open presented by Rogers and her passion for the tournament still runs deep.
Committee Head in the Transportation department helping to coordinate rides for tournament VIP’s, she started serving with the event back in 1975 when she was just 16 years old. Restivo has seen a lot of changes throughout the years and watched it evolve into the world class tournament it is today. Still, she has fond memories of those early days when security was nonexistent, and volunteers and athletes communed and socialized shoulder-to-shoulder.
“Back then there wasn’t much space and there weren’t many volunteers,” said Restivo remembering her days working the tournament in the 1970’s and 1980’s at its old site on Keele and Steeles. “There was a huge tent and that was the restaurant. Tennis Canada hired a catering service and they fed everybody. Players were walking around, and we got to eat with them and get to know them in that kind of way. It was a very nice time, very friendly.”
Restivo began in Program Sales and moved through a few other departments before landing in Transportation. A lifelong tennis player, her dad was a huge enthusiast of the game and never missed a day at the tournament. He got her and her brother playing as young children. Their dad had them hit balls against the garage until he felt their strokes were good enough to play on a tennis court, recalled Restivo with a chuckle. She began volunteering out of her love for the sport, and for some free tickets to watch tennis with her father. He passed away just a few years ago.
While Restivo’s husband Gordon does not share her passion for the game, watching him unknowingly mingle with some of the game’s biggest stars over the years has made for some of her most amusing and memorable moments.
“I long time ago they used to always have a player party, and I brought my husband who doesn’t follow tennis at all,” said Restivo recalling one of the events in the 1980’s. “So he’s sitting there playing blackjack with these two blonde men on either side and he had no idea who they were. He was there for two hours with them having a great time. After he said, ‘Those guys were so great.’ It was Stefan Edberg who was number one in the world and Anders Järryd who was number four in the world. He had no idea. They had a great time. I just kept looking over at them smiling, thinking, ‘This is perfect.’ That was a special moment.”
Born in Kenya, Restivo moved to Toronto with her family when she was six years old and has lived in Scarborough all her life. Retired in 2019, she worked as a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto. Her summers every year are about the tournament.
Restivo is one of three Transportation Committee Heads who oversee the organization of car service for players, coaches, officials, WTA representatives, Tennis Canada executives, and other VIPs providing pick-ups and drops off to airports, hotels or anywhere else they need to go. While for most volunteers the tournament begins on the opening Saturday, for Revisto’s committee it starts the Wednesday prior as people begin to fly in. NBO22 sponsor BMW has provided the tournament with luxury vehicles to help meet the needs of the tournament
The team has greeters stationed at the airport with signs to welcome people as they come in, help with luggage and call up a NBO22 vehicles waiting with the driver in a holding lot. They also have dispatchers stationed at the hotel in case people come down and need a ride and don’t book in advance. This year for the first time they’ve offered players self-drive options where they are able to sign out vehicles themselves. Revisto and the other committee heads are the central point to deal with issues as they arise, like a player who mistakenly left the country on Thursday of the tournament forgetting to leave the car keys.
“We gave them the keys and they drove the car, but now we have a car with no keys and the player is gone,” said Revisto, who is mom to two adult children. “The player might have left the keys in their luggage or in their things so now it’s parked at the hotel. So there are those kinds of problems. Flight changes and all sorts of things that can go completely wrong. Our job as committee heads is to solve those problems.”
With service excellence as a number one motto, Revisto and her team have done a great job doing that over the years. She’s formed close bonds with the other volunteers in the department and every year in March runs a tournament with Tennis Canada for the transportation team. Usually around 60 people, the round robin event is a way to meet up during the year to get caught up with each other before the Open in August.
While Revisto loves all the aspects of the tournament, it’s her connection to the amazing tournament volunteers that keep her coming back every year.
“Well this is stressful for sure but the volunteers are fantastic,” said Revisto. “I’ve known some of them for 20 plus years. Tennis Canada is wonderful to work for, they’re a wonderful organization. They listen and they’re very kind to the volunteers. They do their very best for us and they put on a good show but really it’s our volunteers that keep me coming back. They’re just wonderful people from all walks of life. They’re kind of like family.”