Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the NBA’s All-Star weekend in Toronto. (There’s a link, I promise.)
Has tennis gone mainstream in Canada? Is the sport now cool?
While the question in the title of this column is rhetorical, you might have noticed that my fine country has taken a few steps toward answering the two above with a resounding “Yes” this past weekend.
Oh, tennis will never hockey, sure. We all know that. But for a little while, the sport was at the foreground of the background of the NBA’s All-Star weekend. You see, the event was in Drake’s beloved hometown and, for the celebrity game on Friday night, he had brought out tennis (relative) superstars Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic.
First we got this photo.
Gearing up for #DewCelebGame with @geniebouchard, Win Butler and @milosraonic! pic.twitter.com/y27HycWTIc
— 2016 NBA All-Star (@NBAAllStar) February 12, 2016
Cool enough, right? That’s the two best tennis players in my country’s history (and someone named Win Butler, from Arcade Fire) showing legitimate personality. More than the personality, it’s that they were even invited to an event like the NBA’s Celebrity All-Star Game in the first place that’s so noteworthy: it means that Raonic and Bouchard, two tennis players, are actual celebrities—at least in Canada. They may have received the invitation only because the event was in Toronto, but this is still a positive: it means at the very least that organizers knew their notoriety would be able to carry the day here. It also shows that the pair wants to connect to a broader and bigger audience than tennis fans, which should only help enhance their brand. If that photo were all the two did during All-Star weekend, that would have been fine enough—but no. The 25-year-old Raonic gave us this.
Last tennis player to throw it down? Toronto’s own Milos Raonic! Coach @Drake diggin’ it! #DewCelebGame on ESPN https://t.co/qXXrbAtguz — NBA (@NBA) February 13, 2016
That’s (more or less) a dunk. Raonic stands six-foot-four, sure, but you try it. HE’S A TENNIS PLAYER AND HE (MORE OR LESS) DUNKED A BASKETBALL! In front of thousands of people!!
So Milos Raonic the tennis player dunked during the NBA’s celebrity all-star game. He did so, New Balance made sure to tell me in a press release on Friday, while wearing “a special model of the 996v2 sneaker Milos wears on the tennis court.” It’s a shoe that pays homage to Raonic’s Canadian roots as well as the year 1994, when his family immigrated here.
Look, Raonic even says so on the company’s website. He says that, “The most special thing to me is the personal touch of the Maple leaf on the back and the number 94, representing the year my family and I immigrated to Canada. I wouldn’t be where I am today if my parents didn’t make that move, and I definitely wouldn’t be playing as part of this weekend.”
“A pilot initiative, Tennis Canada Winter Fest, to be held on February 15, will see tennis fans and players hitting forehands in parkas and toques while sharing their experiences on social media for the chance to win prizes,” we can read on Tennis Canada’s website.
It’s no secret that Canada is a tough place for the diehard fans of tennis: for about four or five months of the year, it’s simply impossible to play outdoors, a situation indoor- and membership-only clubs are aware of and upon which they do capitalize.
Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of Tennis Canada, wants to help grow the sport, even during the cold and dark days of winter. “With the new season just underway, it is the perfect time to celebrate our sport and stimulate participation and conversation surrounding tennis,” she says. “We encourage all Canadians to take part in Winter Fest in their own way. Tennis is such a fun and inclusive sport and there is no time like the present to get out there, pick up a racquet and enjoy spending time with friends and family.”
The company’s tactic is pretty obvious: make tennis cool, or at least cooler, by inserting it in the middle of the NBA’s cool all-star weekend and by fostering discussions about the sport across the country.
So go ahead and shovel your driveway, would you? We have a few rallies to hit; let’s go forehand to forehand first.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG