The month of July always marks an important time of the year for tennis. A mere three weeks after the season switches from clay to grass, all eyes turn to the All England Club in London, the site of one of the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world – Wimbledon.
But did you know that just four years after Wimbledon began in 1877, the first Canadian championships were held in Toronto?
Believe it or not, Rogers Cup presented by National Bank is the third-oldest tournament in the world after Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. And, although Rogers Cup and Wimbledon take place on different surfaces and occur in different months, they are connected through some interesting history.
Before Rogers Cup was played on hard courts, the tournament got its start on grass, just like Wimbledon.
In its first-ever competition back in 1881, Rogers Cup was played on three grass courts at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, found on the grounds of the Palace Hotel. In 1892, eight years after the All England Club began holding its annual ladies tournament, women were officially allowed to compete in singles for the first time in Canada. Both the men’s and women’s Canadian championships would continue to be played in Toronto until it was moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1885 for nearly two decades.
From there, the tournament’s host city would bounce around the country to places such as Vancouver, Victoria, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa before eventually making a home in Toronto and Montreal. While moving around, the tournament’s surface of play also changed from grass to clay for the better part of the 20th century until 1979 – when the clay courts at York University were paved over with Deco Turf, the same hard-court surface used at the U.S. Open.
An exclusive list of champions
Rogers Cup and Wimbledon have seen plenty of worthy champions. Former World No.1’s on the WTA tour, such as Martina Hingis, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Serena Williams, have managed to win both tournaments over the course of their careers.
But only a select few in the Open Era have managed to win both Rogers Cup and Wimbledon in the same calendar year. In what could be a described as a “who’s who” in women’s tennis – only four female players since 1968 have managed the feat.
The last to do it was Steffi Graf 26 years ago. It was part of a stretch that saw Graf win 81 of 83 matches between 1993 and 1994. 10 years earlier, Martina Navratilova did one better than her German counterpart. Having won both Wimbledon and Rogers Cup in 1982, Navratilova repeated her efforts a year later. She held an 86-1 record during that 1983 campaign – which remains the best single-season winning percentage by any professional in the Open Era.
In 1974, Chris Evert rode a then-record 55 consecutive match-winning streak to become the champion in both Toronto and London. This took place just four years after Margaret Court was the first in the Open Era to win both Rogers Cup and Wimbledon in the same year. During that season in 1970, Court also became the first of only two women to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam in the Open Era. The other was Graf in 1988.
Canadians repeatedly make history at Wimbledon
Maybe it’s the fact that Canada Day annually takes place during the middle of Wimbledon. But for whatever reason, many of our country’s most important moments in tennis have taken place at the All England Club.
It all started in 2008. Having already won an Olympic Gold medal, an Australian Open, a French Open and a U.S. Open title, Canada’s Daniel Nestor became just the third male doubles player to ever complete the career Golden Slam by winning Wimbledon.
Just four years later, a wave of junior talent from the Great White North laid claim to the grass courts of the All England Club. First, an 18-year-old Eugenie Bouchard defeated Elina Svitolina to win the junior Wimbledon title – marking the first time any Canadian, junior or pro, had won a Grand Slam in singles.
The very next day, Filip Peliwo became the Wimbledon boys’ champion. On top of the fact that he was now the second from Canada to win a singles Grand Slam title, Peliwo also climbed up the junior ranks to No.1 in the world following Wimbledon. No Canadian had achieved this feat before Peliwo.
Fast forward to 2014, Bouchard was back in London making history. Despite falling in the final to Petra Kvitova, Genie became the first Canadian to ever reach a Grand Slam singles final. Milos Raonic would then replicate that result two years later by finishing as a finalist at the 2016 Wimbledon Championships – making him the first male from Canada to achieve that distinction. Earlier that same day, a 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov became the third Canadian to win a Junior Grand Slam title by winning the Wimbledon boys’ singles event.
Players north of the border have also scored their career-best doubles results at Wimbledon. Playing with American Jack Sock, Vasek Pospisil won his first and only Grand Slam title at the All England Club in 2014. While Gabriela Dabrowski’s semi-final showing at last year’s Wimbledon Championships was her highest finish at a Grand Slam event in women’s doubles.
Here’s hoping that 2019 will bring more ground-breaking moments for our Canadians.
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)