Future uncertain for tennis tourney

Tennis players at Kew Gardens have come to a deciding point on hosting the Ontario juniors.

On Friday, Kew Gardens Tennis Club will announce the result of a club vote on hosting Ontario’s Junior Closed Provincial Championships, held at Kew nearly every summer since at least 1948.

Sofija Zecevic makes a return on the way to defeating Ines Milosevic at 2014 Junior Closed Provincial Championships at Kew Gardens. FILE PHOTO
Sofija Zecevic makes a return on the way to defeating Ines Milosevic at 2014 Junior Closed Provincial Championships at Kew Gardens.

With up to 450 boys and girls competing, it is the largest junior tennis championship in Canada. Stars such as Milos Raonic, Daniel Nestor, Sharon Fichman and Gabriela Dabrowski all made big swings at Kew in their teens.

But hosting the two-week championships means club members lose court time, and at peak tennis season – June and July. Most juniors matches run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday.

Hearing calls from some of its many daytime users, the club decided this fall to hold a referendum on hosting the tournament.

“People are very passionate about this issue,” said Ev McLean, president of the Kew club, adding that she will stay neutral until the votes are tallied Friday.

“Whatever happens, there will be a lot of comment about it.”

Mail-in ballots went out to Kew’s 846 members with several options: continue hosting the whole tournament, quit hosting, host it for just one week, or host it every other year.

Jim Boyce is executive director of the Ontario Tennis Association, which runs the Ontario juniors. Now 63, Boyce is a 19-time national tennis champion, a Beacher, and a long-time member of Kew Gardens. He can remember winning junior championships at Kew from age 12.

“We try to stay as neutral as we can, but I can tell you that as Kew Gardens members, we want the tournament there,” said Boyce.

“I think of the tournament as a win-win-win,” he said, adding that the high-profile event has boosted the calibre of Ontario tennis while bringing new club members to Kew and more visitors to the Beach.

“Kids love it,” he said. “They play their matches, and then they go for a walk on the boardwalk.”

Besides tradition, Boyce said Kew is a great venue because it has 10 courts, it one of the largest public tennis clubs in Ontario. It’s also the only community club with both clay and hard courts.

Asked if the juniors could be held elsewhere, Boyce said yes, but not with all age levels at a single club.

“We could do it, but we’d have to split the whole tournament up,” he said.

While Sir Winston Churchill Park also has 10 courts, it will be under reconstruction for the next two years. Toronto’s Rexall Centre stadium has plenty of space, but it closes in late June and early July for Rogers Cup preparations.

Boyce said the OTA has tried to free up court time for Kew members by moving some of matches to other clubs for the first three days. Years ago, it shifted the tournament by a week to leave more of July open for Kew summer camps.

“The inconvenience to the club has I think been minimized as much as possible,” said Boyce.

“There’s no drawback except that we do take away the court time from certain members for those two weeks – that’s a reality we can’t get around. It’s unfortunate, because the benefit to the community is great.”

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