This summer’s National Bank Open (NBO) set an attendance record for a 10-day tennis tournament, as approximately 219,000 people made their way through the stadium gates.
This isn’t the first time the event sets a record, but every new milestone is a sign of pride and of a job well done for Tennis Canada.
The 2023 edition was also the very first overseen by NBO tournament director Valérie Tétreault, who took the reins from Eugène Lapierre after spending several years working side-by-side with him.
On behalf of her team, she was very happy to share her thoughts on the record the NBO set for a women’s event in her very first year.
“Before, we were at 182,000 spectators in 2014. It was Genie's year. She had played the final in Wimbledon just before this tournament. This year, it’s approximately 219,000 spectators. We wanted to promote women's tennis, and the spectators came. We had 61,000 fans during our Family Weekend. We wanted our tournament to be accessible, and some families certainly discovered tennis during the weekend,” she explained.
“The players were very happy. We received many messages from them saying they liked the weekend and felt very welcome not only by our team but also by the crowd. Sabalenka said she hadn’t seen such a warm welcome anywhere else in the world.”
It was a real trial by fire for Valérie and her team considering the complicated weather situation, delays and other inconveniences that disturbed the tournament, players and fans.
Long-time volunteers said this year was one of the most challenging in terms of the disruptions caused by rain. But for Valérie, who worked alongside her predecessor for several years, the contingencies were nothing new.
After weathering the logistical storms in her first year at the helm of the ship, she was able to see the bright side.
“Maybe it was positive because now I’m well-prepared for whatever happens in the future. The WTA told me the day before yesterday that after that, it's going to be a piece of cake,” she said with a smile. “When you hear that from a supervisor traveling all over the world to go to different tournaments, it makes you understand what happened this week was very special and unusual. I do believe it might happen again with climate change. We had a bad summer this year, and it might happen again.”
And then, without a pause, she added: “So, again, we start talking about the roof. Of course, as soon as it rains, we talk about the roof again.”
Valérie Tétreault heard Eugène Lapierre field questions about the roof for years, so she kept things short. Of course Tennis Canada would like a roof, and discussions were well underway before COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic put a lot of things on hold, including an entire edition of the NBO. That spelled financial difficulties for Tennis Canada, which had to make tough decisions and reconsider its short-terms priorities.
Now that things are back on track, the topic is back on the table.
“For the time being, a roof is not mandatory. It's not a standard imposed on the tournaments, but we see that, of course, the Grand Slams have a roof. But even in the 1000 tournaments, many of them have a roof. This is pressure on our tournament. So it’s not mandatory yet to have a roof, but it can become mandatory in five years or in ten years. If we wait until then, it will be a bit too late to talk about it.”
“This stadium also is getting old,” she added. “It was built in 1996, so we need to think about all that and start the discussions about the roof. We have to do it before it becomes mandatory.”
Valérie wrapped things up by looking back on some of her favourite moments this past week.
“Among the great moments, I would say was Leylah’s victory against Haddad Maia, the World No.12, because of the atmosphere on Centre Court. The match ended, and four minutes after the end of the match I had a text message from Eugène saying he was happy for me, and that was heart-warming.”
Another high point was the special ceremony for her former boss: “We also had the ceremony for Eugène yesterday on Centre Court. There were still people in the stands in spite of the rain, and he shared his testimony, and it was important for us to do that. Of course, I was tired maybe, but I confess, I had some tears on the court then.”
SNAPSHOTS FROM THE 2023 NBO
After 10 days chock-full of tennis, fun and a lot of emotions. Here are a few photo highlights.
First, the draw ceremony held at Le Cathcart in downtown Montréal for the second year in a row. As people enter, all eyes—players’, reporters’ and guests’—go straight to the extraordinary glass ceiling.
It’s very likely that veteran Petra Kvitova of Czechia was just shortlisted for the WTA’s 2023 Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award. On August 11, the 33-year-old was quick and efficient in coming to the aid of Belinda Bencic when she injured her ankle. Petra’s speedy intervention before the therapist got to the court helped the Swiss recover and go on to win the match, making Kvitova’s actions all the more admirable.
All sorts of records came close to falling at the NBO, including one late at night on August 11 and early in the morning on August 12, when Elena Rybakina finally defeated Daria Kasatkina at 2:53 a.m. with a few hundred night owls still in attendance after 3:27 of play.
Leylah Fernandez had the most emotional run of all the Canadians in action this week, but let’s not forget Marina Stakusic, the 18-year-old up-and-comer who almost upset a Top 50 player in the qualifying event. She bounced back in doubles to reach the round of 16 with fellow Canadian Carol Zhao.
Yet another Canadian, Bianca Andreescu, may not have had the tournament she was hoping for, but we admire her crusade for mental health. On Family Weekend, fans lined up to have Bianca sign her book Bibi’s Got Game: A Story about Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco.
While some rainy sessions won’t go down in history, no one will forget the dazzling rainbow that appeared on Wednesday, August 10, as the sun set over IGA Stadium.