Home   News   Tennis Canada News

Rivard: Waiting game

Aug 08, 2022
written by: Paul Rivard
written by: Paul Rivard

Even with decades of experience and despite the know-how of the more than 1,500 people who make the tournament run smoothly, when Mother Nature decides it’s time to take a break, you take a break.

Does that spell catastrophe?

“No,” said tournament director Eugène Lapierre, who’s spent the past 29 years at Tennis Canada. I asked him what goes through his mind when bad weather rolls in, and he replied, as zen as ever, “Well, we wait for it to rain. That’s all.”

Clearly, the word panic vanished from his vocabulary a long time ago. Indeed, he lives by a very simple principle: don’t waste energy on things you can’t control. Just track the weather radar and wait.

“I’ve been asked the same question for over two decades. What do we do when it rains? Well, we stop play,” he added with a smile. “Then, we wait for it to stop raining, dry the courts and start again. Those are the basics, and that’s all you can do.”

Here, the ever cheery and philosophical Eugène Lapierre likes to quote Rafael Nadal. In an interview after a match in which his opponent rained down aces on him, he was asked how he’d dealt with it. Rafa simply replied that he waited for it to pass. “Just like the rain!” concluded Lapierre with a chuckle. 

Getting the courts dry

The rain has spared very few editions of the NBO, so the team really knows what it’s doing.

With good logistics and the latest technology, the courts can be dried very quickly, often in 15 or 20 minutes.

But when it pours, it’s all hands on deck, from good old towels to the absorbent rollers and the huge dryers affectionately known as ghostbusters owing to their resemblance to the ghost vacuums in the film. The 16 machines each cost between $3,000 and $4,000, but the investment is worth it.

The word pride comes up a lot in the big boss’s comments, and everyone pitches in. It’s not uncommon to see a few managers grabbing a towel and joining the volunteers or redirecting the efforts.

In this shot, just to the right of Eugène Lapierre are tournament referee William Coffey and Nicolas Joël, director of IGA Stadium. That pretty much says it all.

Scheduling headaches

Despite the rain delays and cancellations, the tournament is usually able to present the entire program and complete the draw.  

But in 2010, the rain was so intense that no matches were played on Saturday or Sunday. The semifinals and final were held on Monday, August 23. In the end, Caroline Wozniacki defeated Vera Zvonareva and took home the winner’s trophy.

That’s not the most surprising story, though.

“One year, the doubles final was interrupted by rain, and we finished it in another country!” Lapierre recalled. “Back then, our tournament was later, just before the US Open. So, everyone went to New York to play the doubles final of a Canadian tournament. The referee carried the balls in his luggage.”

What about the roof?

The question that inevitably comes up year after year is about the roof over Centre Court, which would help avoid all the inconvenience. “We were close to a solution three years ago, but the pandemic changed everything in terms of money, of course,” explained Eugène Lapierre. “We’d have to revisit the budget. We’d like a roof, but I don’t think we’ll be making an announcement in the near future. The good news is that we’re getting encouraging signals from the professional tours that we’re in for the long haul. But with climate change, whether it’s heavy thunderstorms or extreme heat, we need to keep thinking about putting a roof on and protecting our show.”

In the meantime, everyone’s staying positive and placing their trust in the team—and the ghostbusters—to keep us dry.