Canadians Sweep Gatineau

Story and Photos
by Gavin Murphy

Fall 2017

Although only in its fourth season, the Gatineau National Bank Challenger is a significant tournament on the tennis calendar with total prize money of $100,000 (US).

Canadians took home top honours in the men’s and women’s singles tennis championships for a second straight year at the National Bank Challenger tournament in Gatineau, Quebec in July. Teenaged superstar Denis Shapovalov from Richmond Hill defeated last year’s Gatineau champion Peter Polansky from Thornhill 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 while Blainville, Quebec’s Aleksandra Wozniak captured her first singles title since 2012 when she prevailed over Australian qualifier Ellen Perez 7-6(4), 6-4. Shapovalov moved to 130 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) world rankings after his win. Wozniak was ranked 317 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) following her victory. The men’s doubles winners were Americans Bradley Klahn and Jackson Withrow and the women’s doubles champions were top seeds Hiroko Kuwata of Japan and her Russian partner Valeria Savinykh.

National Bank Challenger Series

Since 2005 National Bank has been the title sponsor of the National Bank Challenger events organized by Tennis Canada. Formerly known as the National Bank Circuit, National Bank Challenger tournaments are held in five Canadian locations (Drummondville, Granby, Gatineau, Saguenay and Winnipeg) and often serve as a first experience on the professional tour. Over the years National Bank Challenger players have included Canada’s Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil, as well as American John Isner, Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia and Germany’s Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki.

Gatineau National Bank Challenger

Although only in its fourth season, the Gatineau National Bank Challenger is a significant tournament on the tennis calendar with total prize money of $100,000 (US). A new sponsor this year was the government of Quebec and, as an indication of its growing importance, all men’s matches were broadcast live on the ATP website. The purse for the men is $75,000 with the winner receiving $10,800. A total of $25,000 goes to the women with the champion taking home $3,919.

This year’s tournament drew a record crowd of over 5,000 spectators from 15-23 July. Played on the outdoor hard courts of Parc de l’Île, the men’s matches are part of the ATP Challenger Tour, formerly known as the ATP Challenger Series. The ATP Challenger Tour is the second highest level of competition with the top tier being the ATP World Tour. Futures tournaments on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) men's circuit are the third and final level for international professional competition. Headquartered in London, England, the ITF is the governing body of world tennis, wheelchair tennis, and beach tennis.

Successful players on the ATP Challenger Tour earn ranking points to become eligible for main draw or qualifying draw entry at ATP World Tour tournaments. Players on the ATP Challenger Tour are generally young players who fail to qualify for ATP events, or former ATP players looking to get back on tour.

The Gatineau women’s tournament is an ITF-sanctioned event. The ITF women's circuit is a series of tennis tournaments that serves as developmental events for the WTA Tour. There are many ITF women's circuit tournaments annually around the globe, with prize money ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 (US). As with the ATP Challenger Tour, players who succeed on the ITF women's circuit earn points to become eligible for qualifying draw or main draw entry into WTA events. Until 2011 the ITF women's circuit was the level immediately below the main WTA Tour, but in 2012 the WTA introduced an intermediate level, the WTA 125K series, which is similar to the ATP Challenger Tour.

Carol Zhao, Denis Shapovalov, Peter Polansky

Ellen Perez a surprise

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Gatineau this year was the play of Perez. She started out as a qualifier and ended up in the finals before losing to crowd favourite Wozniak. The 21 year old southpaw, who recently finished college tennis at the University of Georgia, is particularly vocal with shades of fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt creeping into her on-court presence.

“It’s the culture in Australia to scream,” she told Ontario Tennis. “He [Hewitt] instilled that into us. It makes us feel good.”

The Gatineau tournament represented her first visit to Canada and going into the finals she was comfortable with her game and said it was getting better.

“I will go out and compete and enjoy the moment. I am going to have fun and play my game.”

Perez was magnanimous in defeat, congratulating Wozniak on her victory and praising tournament organizers on a well-run event, adding she hopes to return next year. During the awards ceremony Wozniak, the tournament’s sixth seed, congratulated Perez on her “good run”. Immediately after the ceremony Perez headed to Granby for her next tournament.

Peter Polansky reaches finals for second straight year

Polansky, world ranked 127th going into Gatineau, reached the men’s finals again this year before bowing out to Shapovalov. He had an impressive run, beating top seed and 77th ranked Malek Jaziri of Tunisia (4-6, 6-1, 6-2) in the semi-finals. Polansky acknowledged the high quality of play in Gatineau and said he has been to many ATP Challenger events but this tournament is particularly rewarding as it is held in Canada.

During the awards ceremony Polansky congratulated Shapovalov and thanked fans for coming out all week. After the ceremony he told Ontario Tennis that Shapovalov’s serve made the difference in the match, saying the youngster may take risks, but if he’s on his game the opponent is in trouble.

Polansky entered the main draw doubles action at Gatineau, as did Perez and Shapovalov. He said it was easier to play doubles than singles as it was not as stressful and so was “mentally fun”. Polansky also noted that Canadian men’s tennis was in a good place in 2017 with top ranked, middle ranked and young players coming up.

Shapovalov prevails

It was clear during the entire week of action that seventh seed Shapovalov was hugely popular and he was treated like a rock star. Not only was his play electrifying, Shapovalov posed for countless selfies and signed autographs following each victory. On his way to the championship he knocked off players who were higher ranked than him, for example second seed and 91st world ranked Thomas Fabbiano of Italy (6-3, 3-6, 6-3) and fifth seed Polansky.

“It was an incredible week for me,” Shapovalov said at the awards ceremony. “Thank you for taking time to come out. Thanks also to all the volunteers and I hope to see you next year.”

Following the formalities he told Ontario Tennis that, notwithstanding his success, every match was a battle. He admitted Polansky was one of his role models and it is always enjoyable to watch him play, although interestingly enough this was the first time he had actually met him in tournament play. Shapovalov also endorsed the Ontario Tennis Association’s developmental program.

“Ontario tennis today is in great shape and it has improved over the past few years. Something is going right. Developmental programs are great and a big part of it. They help younger players develop their skills.”


National Bank director of sales speciality networks, Nancy Ethier said prior to the tournament: “The National Bank is proud to be associated once again this year with the Gatineau National Bank Challenger. This fourth edition promises to give the spectators a lot of exposure thanks to the presence of professional players who are having an excellent season but also thanks to the next generation of players in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by Internationaux de Tennis de Gatineau (ITG) board member Marc-André Houle. He said the Gatineau event is going from strength to strength and while the perception might have once been that it is a secondary tournament, people now realise the level of play is excellent and it is growing in popularity. He added that the possibility of improved lighting on centre court next year will help enhance the tournament’s reputation.”

ITG co-chair Johanne Demers acknowledged during the awards ceremony that the Gatineau tournament is an important event on the tennis scene with an international presence. The final word also goes to her. Summing up the sentiments of most people in attendance she observed: “What an incredible week we had!”