Raonic, Bouchard to take on top opponents in winter exhibition tennis event
Published Monday, September 17, 2012 7:17PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Organizers of an exhibition tennis event are hoping the rising star power of Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard will help fill the Bell Centre for a night.
Raonic, Canada's top-ranked men's player of all time at No. 15, and Wimbledon junior champion Bouchard will take on opponents yet to be determined at the Montreal Rendez-Vous on March 18.
"It was a delightful opportunity because I've tried to do the same thing in Toronto to help the sport grow," Raonic said at the announcement on Monday. "Tennis is difficult.
"You don't know how results and schedules will play out, so if you have something pre-set in advance and advertised well, it's pretty special. It gives an opportunity not only for tennis fanatics but sports fans in general to come out and see us play."
Players and organizers spoke of top talent like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or even Roger Federer as possible opponents for Raonic and Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova for Bouchard, but it remains to be seen who they will face.
"Anyone's special," said 18-year-old Bouchard, the Westmount, Que., native who won junior titles in singles and doubles at Wimbledon and is now tackling a pro career. "I'll see how I do against an opponent like that.
"After the off-season, I'll start again in January and play lots of pro tournaments and hopefully I'll be a better player than I am now."
The event is run by StarGames, Madison Square Garden and local promoter Evenko. The event started last year with former stars like Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl and drew 8,200 fans.
"We know that the 2013 version, headlined by Milos Raonic, will be even more compelling to the Montreal market," StarGames president Jerry Solomon said.
"It'll be top level, world class players. Some of them are players who have played for us in other events. It's a great date on the international tennis calendar. They have a few days off between Indian Wells and Miami, so it works well for them."
Solomon said a similar event is going into its sixth year in New York and he plans to announce a third one in another city on another continent soon.
The 21-year-old Raonic, of Thornhill, Ont., is coming off a pair of singles wins as Canada downed a depleted South Africa squad 4-1 on the weekend to keep its place in the top-level World Group for next year.
It's unusual that Canada won its Davis Cup tie despite losing the doubles match, as veteran doubles ace Daniel Nestor was Canada's strong point before Raonic's rise in singles rankings. Vasek Pospisil and Frank Dancevic, as well as Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior champion Filip Peliwo, give Canada added depth in singles.
"To be honest, it's singles that gets all the limelight and attention," said Raonic. "It's singles performances that are going to help the sport grow, especially here in Canada."
The tennis event could get even greater attention if the NHL lockout that began at midnight on Saturday drags through the winter.
"I think so, but there's still quite a bit of talk going on about the lockout, so that will take a bit of time,' said Raonic. "It's definitely a good opportunity, but at the same time, it's an opportunity that's not going to be there consistently.
"Maybe we can use it to grow, but I'd want tennis to become a tradition where it doesn't depend on hockey being locked out, where it can grow on its own and hold it's own."