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110-year-old Alberta Open tennis tournament sees upswing

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One of Canada's oldest tennis tournaments brought together hundreds of players in Edmonton over the Heritage Day long weekend.

Saturday, The Lexus of Edmonton 110th Alberta Open held its first full-day event of this year's tournament on the new tennis courts at the Saville Community Sports Centre.

The executive director for Tennis Alberta said it's been the best turnout for the tournament yet.

"In the last couple years we’ve been sitting around just kind of over two hundred, so for this year we’re about twenty-plus players that have registered for the event," said Alan Mackin. "We’re seeing over the last three or four years there’s about a four or five per cent jump in participants each year."

Mackin said part of the rise in popularity may be due to COVID-19.

“A lot of people turned to tennis during the pandemic because it’s very safe and there’s 72 feet between you and your opponent," he added. "Ever since the pandemic stopped, there still seems to be an upswing of people playing the game.”

Over the five-day competition, 225 players will battle it out on eight indoor courts and six brand new outdoor courts, which will become covered courts in the winter.

More tennis courts – especially indoors – mean more people can play throughout the year, and Tennis Canada plans on adding 160 covered courts across the country over the next seven years to improve accessibility to the sport.

“We need many more of these facilities," Mackin said. "That’s why as an organization, Tennis Alberta, with our stakeholders, are really making a case to municipalities that we do need more indoor facilities to accomodate for the growth of the participation rates in our province.”

High-profile Canadian players winning big is also boosting interest in the sport, said 24-time Alberta Open champion Jeff Spiers at Saturday's event.

“The fact that we have Canadians doing well on the international scene now, you’re seeing more kids come into the sport," Jeff said.

“Andreescu, Shapovalov, even Milos Raonic too. It definitely gives a lot of motivation for junior players for sure,” added Jeff's 20-year-old son, Liam Spiers.

Liam, coached by his dad, won the Alberta Open last year. He's hoping to successfully defend that title over the weekend and add to his family's championship legacy.

It's one that stretches beyond his father's accomplishments.

“My grandma was winning this tournament about 60 years ago, you know my dad’s got a lot of titles, my uncle, now myself as well,” Liam said.

The tournament started Thursday and wraps up with finals on Monday.

More information on the Alberta Open can be found here.  

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