Anna Kournikova (left) vs. Monica Seles in an exhibition
match held in Winnipeg on December 15, 2002.

By Sean Grassie

It was a big summer for professional tennis in Winnipeg in 2013 – the CIBC Wood Gundy Women’s Challenger was held in July at Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club, followed by the Manshield Tennis Men’s Futures at Sargent Park in August. Having elite international players visit the city, though, is nothing new. Here are some of the other marquee tennis events that have been held in Winnipeg:

Davis Cup – 1970

The city hosted the Davis Cup for the first time in 1970. In fact, two ties were held on back-to-back weekends at the Winnipeg Canoe Club. Up first for Canada was Caribbean/West Indies. John Sharpe got the host country off to an early lead by beating Richard Russell 6-8, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 in front of a crowd of about 800, “most of whom sat through the 3 ½ hour match in blistering temperatures,” wrote the Winnipeg Free Press. The Canadian team also included Mike Belkin and Peter Burwash (a long-time tennis commentator for TSN). Canada went on to beat Caribbean/West Indies 5-0.

Up next for the home side was a tie against New Zealand, also held at the Canoe Club. New Zealand, coming off a win over Mexico, landed in Winnipeg full of confidence. “We’ll probably win 5-0 or 4-1,” New Zealand captain Eric White told the Free Press. The Canadians, though, had other ideas.

Knotted at 2-2, the tie came down to the last singles match: Belkin against New Zealand’s Onny Parun. Belkin, ranked No. 36 in the world at the time, won 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. “This isn’t like a tournament where you’re playing for a few thousand people,” Belkin told the Free Press after the win. “This is the Davis Cup. This is for Canada!”

Pan Am Games – 1967 and 1999

Winnipeg Canoe Club hosted the tennis events at the 1967 Pan Am Games. Headlining the field was Arthur Ashe, who lost his second straight Australian Open final earlier that year (Ashe went on to win three majors – 1968 U.S. Open, 1970 Australian Open and 1975 Wimbledon). Ashe won a bronze medal in singles at the Pan Am Games and gold in mixed doubles with Jane Albert. In the men’s singles final, Thomas Koch (Brazil) beat Herbert Fitzgibbon (U.S.) 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in front of close to 2,000 spectators at the Canoe Club. Elena Subirats (Mexico) won gold in the women’s singles with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Patsy Rippy (U.S.).

The Pan Am Games returned to the city in 1999, with the tennis events at the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club. Among the notables making the trip were Alexandra Stevenson of the U.S. (she reached the Wimbledon semifinals that year), 17-year-old David Nalbandian of Argentina (2002 Wimbledon finalist) and the U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan. The men’s singles gold medal went to Paul Goldstein of the U.S., who beat countryman Cecil Mamiit 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 in the final. In the women’s singles final, Venezuela’s Maria Venta defeated Tara Snyder of the U.S. 7-6, 6-1. Stevenson and Nalbandian each won bronze.

Tennis Exhibitions – 1987 and 2002

In 1987, Boris Becker met Kevin Curren in a tennis exhibition at the Winnipeg Arena. Two years earlier Becker beat Curren in the Wimbledon final, making the 17-year-old the youngest and first unseeded player to win the title. At the arena, local tennis fans got a chance to see two of the biggest hitters in the game, “and some of the patrons – the ones with the high-priced seats behind the baseline – need armor for protection when Becker started to get his serve in gear,” the Free Press wrote. Becker won 3-6, 7-6, 6-1 (in the preliminary match, Canadian champion Andrew Sznajder beat Vitas Gerulaitis 9-8 in a pro-set). After his win, Becker kept reporters waiting for about 30 minutes while he iced his weary arms and legs. “When you get to my age, you’ve got to take care of yourself,” the 19-year-old told the media.

Another tennis exhibition came to the Winnipeg Arena in December of 2002, with nine-time Grand Slam champion Monica Seles taking on Anna Kournikova. What brought the two tennis stars to Winnipeg in the winter? “Maybe there’s some little boy or girl who will come and be inspired by (our match),” Seles told the Free Press. “That’s why we’re coming, we’re introducing young kids to tennis.” Kournikova beat Seles 6-4, 7-5. The exhibition featured four other matches, including a match-up between two Winnipeg junior stars: 13-year-old Sean Lacap and 16-year-old Kyla McNicol.