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Tennis Canada hopes it has more Raonic's and Bouchard's in the pipeline

09/30/2014 05:22 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Joshua Peck is taking the first step on the road that Canada's Milos Raonic followed to reach the top 10 of the ATP World Tour.

The 15-year-old from Calgary is one of three rookies to move into the elite program at the National Tennis Centre for 2015, along with Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal and Nicaise Muamba of Gatineau, Que.

The program, started in 2007 by Frenchman Louis Borfiga, has helped take Canadian tennis to new heights.

Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., is ranked eighth in the world and Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., is seventh on the women's tour. In addition, the men's Davis Cup squad and women's Fed Cup team have climbed into the prestigious World Group.

"It will really improve my game a lot," Peck said of the program. "It feels really good to be the first one (at the NTC) from Alberta. It gives me confidence to be from a place that isn't normally that good at tennis."

There is no guarantee that any of the 12 players announced to be in the program next year will get as far as Raonic or Bouchard, but it's a start.

"It proves that the program can help you become a top tennis player," said Peck.

Among returning players is the one tabbed to be Canada's next star, Francoise Abanda of Montreal. The 17-year-old is already ranked 178th by the WTA and plans to play pro tennis full time next year.

"It's breaking the ice in the pro circuit and trying to win matches," said Abanda, who won qualifiers to reach the main draw at the U.S. Open in August, only to lose in the first round to Sabine Lisicki.

"As of now I can play a lot of WTA events, so I'll try to keep going and improve my ranking so I can play the bigger tournaments."

Other girls in the program are Gloria Liang of Mississauga, Ont., Rosie Johanson of Abbotsford, B.C., Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Blainville, Que., and Marie-Alexandre Leduc of Jonquiere, Que.

Other boys are Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., Benjamin Sigouin of Vancouver, Jack Mingjie Lin of Markham, Ont., and Victor Krustev of Toronto.

Players are found by scouts across the country, and most come through under-14 programs at national centres in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Being at the NTC gives them access to top coaching and to tournaments around the world.

"It really helped me to grow as a person and an athlete," said Abanda. "They give you amazing support financially, so that takes a lot of stress off the parents and the players. You can just train and not worry about anything financially. Everything is taken care of and it's very professional."

The NTC is at the Jarry tennis complex, which has indoor and outdoor courts, and even some indoor clay courts to help players prepare for the French Open season. The complex includes Uniprix Stadium, the venue for the annual Rogers Cup.

Tennis Canada feels it exceeded its original goals with the emergence of Bouchard, Raonic and world No. 41 Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver. The aim now is to maintain or even surpass that performance.

The key is to discover and develop the best talent, said Tennis Canada vice-president Eugene Lapierre.

"They come from all over Canada and they're all so good," said Lapierre. "The two youngsters, Felix and Nicaise, beat the 14-and-under team from the United States earlier this year.

"They're still very young, but we want to give them the best conditions to develop. We don't know if we have the best talent. We think so. Like Milos and Vasek, we just want to give them the best conditions to develop their talent fully."

He said the best bet so far is the five-foot-10 Abanda.

"She's already demonstrated that she has what it takes to go further," he said. "But she's like a first draft pick, you never know. We've seen draft picks that didn't go anywhere. I don't think getting into the top 100 will be very difficult next year and I think she'll go further."

The Rogers Cup events held annually in Montreal and Toronto produce most of the funding for the NTC. The success of Bouchard, Raonic and Pospisil has boosted ticket sales and raised revenues, while encouraging more young Canadians to take up tennis.

In 2015, Lapierre hopes to see the Davis and Fed Cup teams remain in the World Groups.

The Fed Cup team qualified for the top eight for the first time with a win over Slovakia and will face the Czech Republic Feb. 7-8. That will likely put Bouchard against Petra Kvitova, who beat her in the Wimbledon final in June.

The Davis Cup squad lost its tie to Japan when Raonic was injured, but stayed in the top eight with a 3-2 win over Colombia this month in Halifax. Canada faces Japan again on home soil March 6-8.

"The results we've had puts even more pressure on the coaches and the athletes to surpass that," said Lapierre. "But at the same time, those kids will be so inspired that they've made it to the national centre.

"Now it means something to everyone in Canada. If you can get there, you have a good chance of making a career out of it. We're very hopeful that we have the right formula."

Sylvain Bruneau remains in charge of the girls program with coaches Roberto Brogin, Ralph Platz, Marie-Eve Pelletier and Simon Larose, who works mainly with Abanda.

Guillaume Marx supervises the boys program with Jocelyn Robichaud while Martin Laurendeau looks after professional development. Fitness trainers are Pierre-Lary Petrone and Andre Parent.

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