The GTA is known as a tennis hotbed, with hundreds of elite junior, college, adult, and senior players. Yet, until recently, there were no local, elite professional leagues operating there, or in the rest of Ontario, unlike in the southern US.
There are at least ten amateur leagues operating in the GTA. They provide an important competitive and social outlet for thousands of players at all levels and have been a part of the tennis ecosystem for years. In fact, Mayfair Clubs has actively participated in many of them.
In 2017, Sandra Barrett, Sports and Social Manager, with her knowledge of similar tennis leagues in the southern US, approached the executive team at Mayfair Clubs with the idea of creating a professional league in the GTA.
Mayfair Clubs has a long history of promoting tennis at the grass roots and giving back to the game. The idea for an elite pro tennis league fit nicely with their corporate philosophy. They saw it as a terrific way to engage the best, young, up-and-coming players in the GTA and mix them in with some established players who are still playing at a high calibre. It would also provide members and guests exposure to great tennis in a fun and social environment. With that in mind, an organizing team at Mayfair was formed and soon after, the Mayfair Toronto Pro League (MTPL), Ontario’s only professional tennis league was founded in 2017.
The league had to attract the cream of the crop of local talent. At the recreational level, there is no shortage of A, B and C level players to fill various leagues’ team rosters, but it is always difficult for the few elite players scattered across the GTA to find ways to play against each other on a regular basis. It is a numbers game in a spread-out tennis region.
Players needed to be rewarded for their commitment as well as their excellence. Hundreds of top-level players, including ATP, WTA, and ITF pros, have honed their skills at Mayfair hosted tournaments and academies. The league organizing team agreed that the players should be treated like pros, including awarding them prize money when they play – win or lose. This level of play was particularly important for the junior or college-aged players. They stood to gain high-level experience both on and off the court, while playing with and against more experienced competitors in a team environment, like an NCAA college team. It was also important not to dilute the talent too far. The vision was to have between 40 and 60 top class players in the 4-team league.
Mayfair Clubs promoted the league to the GTA’s best players. Those interested in competing were invited to submit an application that included their current and past tennis playing credentials. In 2017, over 130 players applied to play. The league held a player draft, and the best 56 players were selected. The four teams were ready to go!
“Our aim from the beginning was to pit the best against the best from all around the GTA. Other leagues have the entire spectrum of players from NRTP 3.5 to 5.0 and above. In the top divisions any team might have a true number one doubles team, with second, third and fourth pairings rounding out their roster. The MTPL aim was to bring players from those number one spots together under one roof to compete against each other at the highest level.” Ken Crosina, Tennis Director at Mayfair Clubs.
The Team Owners
The current MTPL has four corporate team owners, Authentic Asset Management, Baird MacGregor Insurance Brokers, Oleiva, and West Toronto Foot & Ankle Clinic, which help sponsor the league and manage their players. Mayfair Clubs has also secured other key partners and a presenting sponsor, George Fischer Photography, to help ensure the financial viability of the league. The prize money alone is over $15,000 this season, so the team owners and sponsors are a very important part of the success of this league. They happen to be big tennis fans as well, so it is a win/win situation for everyone!
Team Authentic Asset Management owner Duncan Webster liked what the MTPL represented. “I love tennis and I wanted to get more involved in the community and spread the word about Authentic Asset Management. On so many levels the league fits with our company’s values and we are proud to be a part of it”.
The first-ever MTPL matches took place at Mayfair Lakeshore on September 22, 2017. The format of the league had all four teams playing in the same evening, two playing each other in the early flight and the remaining two facing off afterwards in the later flight. Each team fielded 3 doubles teams and the players played a best two out of three set match with a super breaker as the deciding third set. The league matches were scheduled for seven weeks. At the end of it all, the first league champion, Team Authentic Asset Management, was crowned!
Keep the Ball Rolling!
After the success of year one, the second season saw the matches consolidated exclusively at the Lakeshore location, where it remains today. There have been a few tweaks to the format and team composition since the first team matches in 2017, however, the league remains true to its mission of providing the best tennis players in the GTA with elite competition in an enjoyable and exciting. As word of the league spread after season one, more and more players have applied each year. Crosina continues to oversee the application process and has kept strict quality control in place. Every player in the league is chosen on merit, regardless of age and gender.
Unfortunately, Mayfair Clubs was forced to cancel the league’s 2020 season due to Covid-19 restrictions. In fact, all indoor tennis facilities in the province lost much of their indoor season due to the pandemic. The good news was that league players remained committed to the league and so did Mayfair Clubs and the league sponsors. The 2021 campaign started in the fall but was, again interrupted by Covid. In February of 2022, the league was able to resume regular season play, with the finals scheduled for April 8, 2022, at Mayfair Lakeshore.
Helping Develop Great Players
Aside from providing high-level competition for all the players and great entertainment for spectators, Mayfair Clubs sees extra value for the up-and-coming juniors and early twenty-something competitors. Tennis is an individual sport and many players, particularly juniors, compete primarily in singles-only tournaments. It is a competitive, pressure-filled environment and can be daunting at times, especially after a tough loss.
League player Chris Corraro from Team Foot & Ankle knows first-hand about the pressures of competitive tennis. A former OTA junior competitor, Corrao went on to play US College tennis in NCAA Division 1 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He figures that the current group of elite juniors who might be eyeing a tennis scholarship can benefit from playing with the older players, “I see similarities between the team environment of the MTPL and my University team. The team atmosphere is my favourite because I enjoy cheering on my teammates during their matches, to give everyone a boost of confidence and energy. It is always exciting to see others cheer you on while playing and their reactions after witnessing an entertaining point is always priceless. I wish that league like MTPL existed when I was a junior.”
Coulter Wright, a current team member from Oleiva and a University of New Mexico tennis team alumni notes, “For sure, the MTPL format has similarities to playing on an NCAA tennis team. There’s pressure on you to win as an individual and as part of a team, but there is also great support from your teammates and, win or lose, you do it together. I think Mayfair Clubs has done an excellent job of creating an environment in which all the players appreciate each other’s skills and can learn from each other as well. As an experienced player, it’s great to be challenged by the young guns but it’s also good to know that they are also gaining valuable experience by playing you. There is mutual respect between all the league players.”
With a diverse group of players ranging from young OTA juniors, to current or recently graduated Canadian university team members, to former NCAA tennis scholarship athletes (and the occasional former touring pro), the MTPL offers invaluable experience to the younger players. The “veteran” players still have formidable talent and show the youngsters varied playing styles and incredible tennis IQ that was gained through years of experience. The leagues doubles-only format and team-first mentality provides prospective scholarship candidates with a glimpse of what it can be like to play as part of a NCAA tennis team.
Eric and Kevin Kovacs, twins who recently graduated from the junior tennis ranks have played in the MTPL since they were sixteen. They applied to play in the league for the last three years, “because of the amazing competition and the chance to further grow our doubles skills.”
Eyeing an NCAA scholarship as a potential avenue to improve their tennis they relish the opportunity to play against former scholarship athletes; “There have been multiple positive experiences both of us have gotten while competing at the MTPL. As we play against mostly older and more experienced tennis players, we can see the different strategies they use while playing doubles. We are then able to use this as a strength and improve our doubles tactics that will transition perfectly into college tennis for us next year.”
Spectators and Sponsors
One of the key elements that separates the MTPL from other leagues is the fan experience. Right from the beginning Mayfair Clubs wanted to include as many spectators as possible at league matches to create a charged atmosphere for the players. The team tennis concept also ensured that there would be partisan encouragement and cheering.
To attract spectators, Mayfair Clubs makes every effort to impress. Members and non-members can attend matches for free. There is even the Burgundy Assets Courtside Bistro. It is set up to be fan-friendly, filled with spectator chairs, sponsor displays, giveaways and on-court food and beverages. Most importantly, the tennis is excellent – and exciting! So exciting in fact, that Canadian tennis superstars Milos Raonic, Daniel Nestor and Denis Shapovalov have dropped in to check out the action! The Mayfair Toronto Pro League is proud to have 22 Associate Sponsors, 4 Team Owners, and several Premier Partners. The MTPL’s Presenting Sponsor is George Fischer Photography.
Mr. Fischer has been a photographer for the past 40 years, travelling the world and producing over 70 photographic books. As an active player, he is passionate about tennis and has played tennis since he was a teenager. Asked why he decided to sponsor the league he noted, “I got involved with the Mayfair Toronto Pro League 3 three years ago to help support this new league and continue to encourage top players to showcase their skills, make a little prize money and enable tennis enthusiasts to enjoy the high level matches up close.”
Sandra Barrett, MTPL League Director explains, “From the very beginning the MTPL has been a huge team effort. From player and sponsor acquisition, promotional efforts to the tremendous amount of work it is to set-up and ensure a world class experience, each night, we are so proud of everyone from Mayfair Clubs that has helped to bring the Pro League to life, every year.”
Mayfair Club’s vision of having the best tennis players competing against each other has been realized. The mission to provide a place for promising young players to hone their skills and gain valuable experience remains a guiding principle for the management team. The league is strong with interest from the players, fans and sponsors remaining exceedingly high. Is it possible that the next Canadian to “Go Pro” will be from the MTPL?
The 5th Annual Mayfair Toronto Pro League
The Mayfair Club’s team is looking forward to its best season ever starting in the fall. “The 5th season, starting in November 2022, will be extra special. Along with 7 exciting league matches, this season will feature a bonus MTPL Calcutta Event. This event will be a ‘MUST’ for players, sponsors, and spectators alike. That’s all we can say now, it’s very hush, hush. But stay tuned for all the details to be rolled out this summer!”