To put it mildly, the world was a very different place the last time the women of the WTA Tour competed in Toronto.
But the 2022 National Bank Open presented by Rogers marked a return to normalcy, with full crowds cheering on the best of the WTA Tour on all the courts around the grounds Sobeys Stadium.
And the tennis was of the highest calibre which just added to the raucous atmosphere at the northern edge of Canada’s largest city.
Here are some of the highlights from the 2022 National Bank Open.
BACK TO NORMAL
The 2022 National Bank Open more closely resembled the 2019 edition of the tournament rather than the COVID-restricted 2021 version.
No more capacity limits, no more spread-out seating. The grounds were open again with all courts available to the fans, as well as food and activities for them to partake in. And they took advantage as the tournament posted its highest attendance for a women’s event in over a decade.
Every court was packed for every match and the grounds were always hopping. It was as lively an atmosphere as one could hope for.
Also, there was a train which was super cool. How many sporting events have a train?
The field that landed in Toronto for the 2022 National Bank Open was not just one of the strongest in the tournament’s history, it was one of the best fields on the WTA Tour in 2022 including the Grand Slam events.
41 of the world’s Top 43 players entered the event and once the draw came out, practically every big name on the women’s tour was there. World No. 1 Iga Świątek made her return to Canada after her 2019 breakthrough and was joined by nearly the entire WTA Top 10.
Canadian stars Leylah Annie Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu lit it up on Centre Court with some thrilling prime-time matches.
But one name stood out from the jam-packed crowd.
SALUTE TO SERENA
Three-time National Bank Open champion Serena Williams made her return to Canada, using her protected ranking to enter just her second event of 2022.
Williams’ presence was exciting enough on its own, but on the eve of the tournament she sent shockwaves through the entire sporting world by announcing her intention to transition away from tennis after the upcoming US Open, which suddenly shifted the entire tone of her appearance in Toronto.
Both of her matches were sell-outs, and the Toronto crowd showered the 23-time Grand Slam champion with love and support every second she was on court. A first-round win over Nuria Parrizas Diaz set the stage for Williams’ farewell after her second-round loss to Belinda Bencic.
After the match, the Toronto fans gave the great champion the send-off she more than deserved.
CUTTING THROUGH THE NOISE
With so much star power in Toronto, it was hard to see how a young player could possibly get any attention.
Two managed to do just that.
Beatriz Haddad Maia went on a remarkable run that saw her beat four straight seeded opponents, including Canadian favourite Leylah Annie Fernandez and World No. 1 Iga Świątek, on her way to her first WTA 1000 final.
Chinese teen Zheng Qinwen also made a name for herself by reaching her first WTA 1000 quarter-final, breaking the hearts of the home fans by taking out both Rebecca Marino and Bianca Andreescu before falling in a three-set thriller to Karolina Pliskova.
One young star who did not surprise anyone during the National Bank Open was Coco Gauff, although her great accomplishment did sneak up on the tennis world, including Gauff herself.
While her singles result was respectable, a second straight quarter-final in Canada and losing in two tight sets to the eventual champion Simona Halep, it was doubles where Gauff really made her mark.
By claiming the title alongside Jessica Pegula, Gauff reached the No. 1 ranking in doubles. The young American revealed after the final that she did not realize she was in contention for the top spot until late in the week when Pegula filled her in.
At 18 years and 54 days, she was the second-youngest woman ever to reach the doubles No. 1 ranking, just under a year older than Martina Hingis who was 17 when she achieved the feat in 1998, a couple of months before winning her first doubles title in Canada as well.
SPREADING THE LOVE
A new element of fan-player interaction that was introduced during the 2022 National Bank Open was the Positivity Postcards.
As part of Tennis Canada’s mental timeout initiative, fans could write messages of support to their favourite players on a postcard. Those postcards were then shared with the players themselves. Have a look:
On paper, the title match in Toronto may not have been a match-up that would have turned heads. But Simona Halep and Beatriz Haddad Maia brought in the loudest crowd of the entire week to set the background for what turned out to be a dramatic final.
Sobeys Stadium more closely resembled a soccer game as fans flooded in clad in Brazilian yellow and green for Haddad Maia and Romanian red, blue and yellow to cheer on Halep. Every point resulted in an eruption of noise that even drowned out the sound of the airplanes flying overhead on the flightpath to Pearson airport.
It was the perfect ambiance for Halep’s eventual triumph in three thrilling sets, which made her the first woman in the 21st century to win the title in both Canadian cities.
In 2023, it will be the men’s turn to grace the courts of Sobeys Stadium as the ATP Tour returns to Toronto. Full-week packages are already on sale and individual tickets for the 2023 event will be available in January. You can sign up today to be notified when tickets go on sale.