Call it another learning experience for a handful of Canadian women taking to the court in the early part of the 2023 Calgary National Bank Challenger.
But that’s the point of the ITF Women’s Pro Circuit and one big reason why big tennis events are being hosted in Canada …
To help get rising Canucks with their resumés, no matter what their outcomes may be.
“It’s a Canadian event, so there should be a lot of Canadians here,” said tennis legend Daniel Nestor, The Challenger’s honorary chairman. “And these are events where our players can — hopefully — build their rankings and try and get into the higher levels.”
‘Try’ being the key word.
Just because they’re playing on home soil doesn’t mean they’ll come away victorious.
Take Tuesday, for instance, at the week-long $60,000 ITF portion of The Challenger at the OSTEN & VICTOR Alberta Tennis Centre.
Three young Canadian women — Edmonton’s Martyna Ostrzygalo, Ontario’s Layne Sleeth and Ontario’s Isabelle Boulais — competing in singles action were unable to pull out victories.
That followed Monday’s elimination in qualifying action of Regina’s Teah Chavez and Toronto’s Ellie Daniels and Sunday’s early exits — also in qualifying — of Ontario’s Ana Grubor (retired), Toronto’s Louise Kwong (loss) and Ontario’s Scarlett Nicholson (loss).
However, one Canadian — Stacey Fung — was able to pick up the win Tuesday in a 6-4, 6-1 win over France’s Caroline Romeo.
“I’m just coming off some training at home, so not really in the swing of tournament match play and got out there a little jittery,” said Fung of falling behind 3-1 before roaring back to take 12 of the next 14 games. “But I was able to get my feet going and find the ball and find the range and was able to turn it around. Glad it worked out in the end.”
The Vancouver product made her WTA debut two months ago at the Guadalajara Open in Mexico, and she’s ranked 250th on tour. Before that, Fung reached the singles semifinals and the doubles finals at the ITF event in Saskatoon, so she’s got game.
At 26, Fung — the No. 5 seed in the tournament — is slightly older than her compatriots.
“I’ve met a few of the younger Canadians here this week,” Fung said. “There’s a ton of girls in Vancouver that obviously are younger — 16 and 17 — and they love to ask me about my time at the University of Washington — where I played collegiate tennis — and my time on tour, so I try and help them as much as I can.”
Another older Canadian among the women here is Toronto’s Katherine Sebov. The 24-year-old is ranked 257th and is the top seed at The Challenger.
“Katherine’s made a name for herself, especially in the last year,” said Nestor of the 141st ranked player on the WTA Tour. “She’s at an all-time high — she’s the top seed here. She qualified for one of the grand slams. She’s playing very solid.”
Otherwise, it is a younger group of Canadian women competing this year’s ITF play of The Challenger.
Sebov, Fung and Toronto’s Cadence Brace — 18 and ranked 499th — earned slots in the women’s main draw at the ATC.
“Sebov is the big name here for Canadian women’s tennis,” Nestor said. “So she’s one of the top-five female players we have in Canada.”
One of the nation’s top junior players is here, too, in Ontario’s Kayla Cross.
The 18-year-old WTA-ranked 300th player won the doubles title last week in Edmonton and was in the semifinals of the Challenger in Toronto earlier this year.
“Kayla is currently one of the best juniors in the world and has been playing very well in doubles of late,” said Nestor of Cross, who joins Calgary’s own Alexia Jacobs, 22-year-old Sleeth — ranked No. 467 — and 18-year-old Ostrzygalo — ranked No. 842 — as wildcard entries to the main bracket.
“Alexia’s got a big game, especially in altitude here,” said Nestor of Jacobs, the 18-year-old freshman with the NCAA’s Washington Huskies. “If she’s in the right mindset, she could do well and win some matches here. She knows the conditions here, having grown up here, and the reason why she plays the way she does is probably because of having grown up in this environment. It would be nice to see her win some matches and come through the draw.”
“Layne’s pretty fun to watch,” said Nestor, of the NCAA Oklahoma Sooners graduate. “She moves unbelievably. If you want to watch how to move in tennis, she would be one of the most ideal.”
Also fresh out of the college ranks is 23-year-old Boulais.
The NCAA Ohio State Buckeyes talent is ranked 682nd on the WTA but is drawing plenty of praise from gurus such as The Challenger’s honorary chairman, just like her brother, Justin, who Sunday claimed the men’s singles title at the Edmonton National Bank Challenger.
“She got a nice game, too,” confirmed Nestor of Boulais.
“Then, there’s Teah Chavez — she’s new to Ohio State, and she’s fun to watch,” said Nestor of the 1,179th-ranked youngster. “She’s got really good energy. You can almost guarantee her matches are going to go almost three hours long. She’s a really good competitor.”
Chavez and Boulais joined Nicholson and Daniels as the wildcards for the qualifying round.
“Ellie is another promising junior,” added Nestor, of the 17-year-old ranked 1,024th in the WTA. “She’s got a big game. She’s a strong girl and hits the ball hard. And these conditions are suitable for players with that kind of mindset.”
Ostrzygalo lost to Great Britain’s Eden Silva 6-2, 6-0 … Boulais lost to Great Britain’s Sarah Beth Grey 7-6(1), 6-1 … And Sleeth lost to Russia’s Kira Pavlova 6-4, 6-4 … Also on Tuesday’s card was an all-Canadian doubles’ match between Chavez/Jacobs and Nicholson/Ostrzygalo … Wednesday’s Day 4 begins with matches at 10 a.m.