It won’t be long now and the squeaking of sneakers and whoosh of the racquet will be the joyful new sounds coming from the National Bank Tennis MB Hub at West St. Paul, located next to the Access Centre at 48 Holland Road. Mark Arndt, Executive Director of Tennis Manitoba, says construction has resumed on Phase 1 of the facility and it will open this summer in time for its first major event. Excavation and sub-surface work was done last fall after a ground-breaking ceremony held on Aug. 24 and construction is once again underway now.
The Hub’s first big event, the National Bank Challenger set to go Aug. 13-19.
The Challenger features up and coming tennis stars and some very big names have played in the event when it was held in Winnipeg.
Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, Leyla Anne Fernandez and Felix Auger-Alliasime – all highly ranked players, with Andreescu also a former U.S. Open Champion – previously played in Winnipeg at the Challenger.
Just last year, Vasek Pospisil, who has a career-high ranking of 25 in singles and 4th in doubles and won the Wimbledon Championship in doubles in 2014, played at the Challenger in Winnipeg. “He was at our tournament last year. He was coming back from an injury and he used our tournament as a warm up for the National Bank Open (Canadian Open),” Arndt said.
“It’s just awesome when you look back and think of the quality that’s been here, and we’re anticipating the same. We’re really excited about who’s coming this year.”
The players list won’t be available until about a month before the tournament, but Arndt says there’s usually a nice surprise in the list of names.
Phase 1 features four outdoor courts. They’ll be built in a unique way to make sure they compliment the surrounding area.
“A huge important part of this project is integrating it with all that’s going on at and around the Access Centre,” Arndt said.
“We want trees and trails that can tie in with the rest of West St. Paul.”
Great place for locals to play Arndt says beyond the thrill of hosting the Challenger is the excitement that a world class facility will be available for all to play.
Fueled by the success of stars like Andreescu, Fernandez and Auger-Alliasime, Arndt says there’s a groundswell of interest and it’s being born out in the numbers.
“This last indoor junior tournament that we delivered, we had 115 kids that had signed up. We had to cap the entries, and in May, 146 kids entered our first outdoor tournament of the year,” Arndt said.
“To me that’s phenomenal. I’ve been at Tennis Manitoba for 10 years and the tournaments have always been around the 40, 50 kids mark. Now to see over 145 kids is just phenomenal.”
Besides the high profile names that make it easy to promote the sport, you don’t have to sink a ton of cash into getting started.
“It’s a very affordable sport, rackets are $25 and a can of balls is $5 and you’re ready to play,” Arndt said.
“It’s great. People are realizing tennis is a lifelong sport.”
In 2018 the RM put out an Expression of Interest seeking private partnerships to add to recreational opportunities at the then Sunova Centre, now Access Centre. Tennis Manitoba was the lone respondent. Arndt said he initially mulled around the idea of a tennis facility in the municipality during a backyard barbecue years ago and he’s thrilled the facility is now just months away from reality.
“The way it all started, and for it to actually be at this stage is amazing. It hit me when I was walking the grounds during construction back in the fall, to be on the actual site, seeing it start to come to fruition, it’s a satisfying feeling,” he said.
“I’m proud of the West St. Paul community and thankful to be a part of it…To be able to contribute to that is fantastic. A facility that enables people to stay fit, stay healthy, it’s going to be fantastic.”