Sani Sport Brossard in Quebec will be the home of several top wheelchair tennis players from across Canada this weekend, as they get set to duel for the right to be called national champion at the Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championships.
Taking place October 16-19 just outside of Montreal, champions will be crowned in the men’s, women’s, and quad categories. This year, the field features 22 players from six different provinces. Here is a look at each event:
Canada’s top two men’s players, Philippe Bedard and Joel Dembe, are both back to duel each other for the title once again. The past two years have seen world No. 40 Dembe and No. 42-ranked Bedard play each other in the final, with Bedard winning his first national crown last year and Dembe coming out on top in 2012. Dembe also won the singles trophy in 2011.
“To me the Birmingham Nationals are like a celebration of the entire year of tennis,” defending champion Bedard said. “I worked hard this year, I travelled a lot to play on the international tour and I learned tons. I feel that my level of play went up drastically during the season and I am proud of my accomplishments this year.”
In doubles, Bedard and Dembe have teamed up for the past three national titles, defeating Eric Gilbert and Jean-Francois Sylvestre in the championship match in 2012 and 2013.
“I’m looking forward to attending this year’s Birmingham Nationals in Quebec,” Dembe said. “Parasports Quebec does a great job running this event year after year. It’s a great way to showcase Canada’s top wheelchair tennis players along with the future of the sport as well.”
Sixteen players will feature in the men’s draw, including first-time participants Bernard Lapointe and Jonathan Tremblay. Among the other players to keep an eye on are Gilbert, who has joined Dembe and Bedard on Canada’s World Cup Team in recent years, and the up-and-coming Sylvestre.
“I am excited at the prospect to compete at the Birmingham Nationals to try and finish the season on a high note,” Gilbert said. “The best Canadians will be present, so finishing well will be a challenging task.”
Making a return to the tournament after a one-year absence, the women’s draw will be a round-robin battle between Kirsten Sharp, Tara Llanes, and Helene Simard. Sharp will be the highest-ranked athlete in contention at No. 90 in the world.
“I am thrilled that after a year’s hiatus we will once again have enough women to compete at nationals this year,” Sharp said. “I am excited to learn from Canada's best, and to be around the contagious energy that is always present. I look forward to the opportunity to learn, improve, and put into play what I've been practicing the last few months.”
Llanes and Simard both bring a vast set of different experiences to the tournament as well. Llanes, a former bicycle motocross racer, is fairly new to wheelchair tennis and will be competing in her first-ever Birmingham Nationals while former world No. 9 Simard is making a return to the sport after many years away.
“First off I’m extremely excited to have been chosen for the BC provincial team,” Llanes said. “In my seven to eight months of playing, I’ve met some really amazing people and have had a blast at the tourneys I’ve been able to get to. Playing at the Canadian nationals is a privilege and I’m very honoured to be able to represent Canada as well as BC. I don’t have quite the experience as a lot of the other players but knowing how competitive I am, I’ll give it everything and try to come out on top!”
Simard is a former Canadian champion who competed successfully on the international circuit for 10 years. She won the Birmingham national women’s singles titles back in 1993, 1996, 2000, 2002, and 2003.
“For me, the nationals this year are very special,” she said. “I’m coming back after seven years out of competition, so I'm quite pleased to take part in it this year.”
Similar to the women’s event, the quad tournament this year will feature three athletes participating in a round-robin for the title. Gary Luker, runner-up the past two years and champion in 2011, will be hoping for a return to glory. His foes will be Mika Ishikawa, who will have her sights set on a maiden singles crown, and first-time entrant Mitch McIntyre.
“I always look forward to nationals,” Luker said. “The chance of becoming a national champion has always been special to me.”
Both Luker and Ishikawa have enjoyed superb seasons and subsequently reached career-high rankings. Luker is now Canada’s highest-ranked quad player at No. 17, while Ishikawa is not far behind at No. 23. Ishikawa, a two-time national doubles champion, will also suiting up in the women’s doubles draw.
The 2014 Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championships will take place October 16-19 at Sani Sport Brossard. The complete draws and results will be made available here and daily updates will be posted to tenniscanada.com.