Tennis Anyone? Canada’s rising stars spark new interest in sport

Players as young as four get a feel for tennis in a QuickStart program at the Sarnia Riding Club. Here, students Cate Brown, Alexius Schenk, Ali Schenk, Katie Cruz, Abigail Gordon, Alexander Ballinger and Evan McSweeney are joined on the court by instructors and helpers, Kristina and Monica Polakovic, Nick Sproviero and Sydney Liestra. Barry Wright Photo

Perhaps the next Eugenie Bouchard or Milos Raonic is already honing his or her skills at the Sarnia Riding Club.

The club reports a spike in interest in the sport, partly because of the success of two rising Canadian stars on the professional tour.

Kids as young as four are signing up for the QuickStart program in which they learn the rules and play with a smaller net and larger rackets and tennis balls to get a feel for the game.

“I think tennis has never been as big as it is right now because of their success,” said Kristina Polakovic, head tennis pro at the club.

“They are getting the word out about tennis and I think that’s awesome,” added Polakovic, who attends College of Coastal Georgia on a tennis scholarship after graduating from Sarnia’s St. Christopher Secondary School in 2012.

One of the club’s up-and-comers says his contemporaries are becoming aware of the Canadian connection to the sport.

“I think more people are paying attention,” said Andrew Davies, 13.  “Especially with Eugenie this year.”

After being named the WTA Newcomer of the Year last season, Bouchard has reached the semi-finals in both the Australian and French Open tournaments this season.

Over at the Sarnia Tennis Club, vice-president Clive Barry said a strong junior program has remained fairly constant during his eight years with the organization.

The New Zealand native hasn’t seen a significant rise in registration this year because of the Raonic-Bouchard factor since local tennis has always had a very strong foundation in the Sarnia region, especially with the immigrant population.

But Barry and Polakovic are quick to point out the sport has a much wider appeal than just for young guns.

Tennis, they say, can be played well into retirement years with tremendous physical benefits and a social component to it.

“Tennis is a game for life,” said Barry.  “That’s the great thing about it.”

 – Barry Wright