Canuck tennis needs star
By GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun
*A highly experienced coach once told me: "If you want to reach the stars, you have to know what a star is."
*So, Canadian tennis badly needs a Mike Weir or Annika Sorenstam to 'enlighten' our national tennis family.
*That, and only that, would help develop Canadian male and female players to the point where they end up being ranked among the top 20 players in the world.
*Bob Moffatt, president of Tennis Canada and a former member of Canada's national team, figures that a star's presence would propel Canadian tennis to the point of developing another Carling Bassett or Mike Belkin.
*Darling Carling, as the British media nicknamed the daughter of the late Johnny F. Bassett, was ranked 10th in the world at one point and one year reached the fourth round at Wimbledon.
*Belkin could, on any given day, beat any ranked player in the world.
*"We've had highly ranked players in addition to Carling and Mike," Moffatt said the other day. "Helen Kelesi, Andrew Sznajder, Bob Bedard, Daniel Nestor and Grant Connell are other names that come to mind.
*"But in order to create major interest among young people, we need a Mike Weir of tennis.
*"Sweden had a Bjorn Borg and thousands of youngsters wanted to follow in his shoes. The Czechs had Jaroslav Drobny, a former Wimbledon champion. Argentina boasted Guillermo Vilas, and so on. We need a star player."
*In other words, Moffatt advocates the development of greater depths in the men's and women's divisions, particularly players who are adept on all surfaces.
*"Most of our players are used to playing on hard, fast surfaces," Moffatt said. "The problem is that half the courts in the world are clay courts and it's a major difference to play on hard courts versus clay. Just ask Pete Sampras, who never won the French Open, which is played on red clay.
*"And you need good coaches. We have about a dozen highly qualified coaches to work with upcoming young players. However, we need more of them.
*"Also, we've had, and still have, some good players. Greg Rusedski, who made the U.S. Open final one year, was brought up on Canadian tennis and Daniel Nestor beat such top players as Stefan Edberg and Marcello Rios when they were ranked No. 1 in the world."
*Moffatt relies on Hatem McDadi, the director of player development for Tennis Canada, who has an interesting explanation for why Canada doesn't have a man or woman among them world's top 20 players.
*"I think the No. 1 problem is the culture of Canadian sports," McDadi said. "Tennis in Canada is not in the top five sports. Hockey is No. 1, followed by basketball, golf, curling and baseball. If we had a Grand Slam champion, it would get the people interested in tennis.
*"A champion alone is not enough, though. In France, for instance, tennis took off when Yannick Noah reached the top. But they also had the infrastructure, including training programs, club competitions, regional tournaments and so on."
*According to McDadi, among Canadian men, young Frank Dancevic has the potential of making it to the top 20 in the world. He's just out of the junior ranks, but has shown remarkable maturity. On the distaff side, it's Sharon Fishman, who is only 13 years old, but has won the Orange Bowl in Florida and is the Canadian national under-14 champion.
*"I would say we have about eight to 10 young promising girls," McDadi said. "Now it comes to the Canadian culture I was talking about. But if we have the coaching, the national team program and the rest of the infrastructure in place, the future will look good."
*Until then, all we can do is admire the Williams sisters and Lleyton Hewitt.