It wasn’t that long ago that the Coupe Banque Nationale in Quebec City was a gem of a tournament.
The small provincial capital has a long tradition of treating every event held there – regardless of size – as a big-league endeavour.
It offered everything a player could want. And that included impressive crowds, especially in the context of an International-level event.
And many players stopped in on their way to the top. Past champions include Jennifer Capriati (in 1999) and 16-year-old Maria Sharapova (in 2003).
But those days are gone. The crowds have dwindled every year over the last five years.
And while Tennis Canada vice-president Eugène Lapierre said the tournament would be back in 2019, he can’t guarantee its future beyond that.
In fact, Lapierre confirmed that Tennis Canada, which bought back the event in the third change of ownership over the last four years, regularly receives offers to buy the event’s license and relocate it.
The offers have come from Asia and from the Middle East.
And, new this year, from Lyon, France and … Detroit, Michigan.
“I can’t deny that we’ve had international requests for our product. It’s worth money. We’ll look at that, but the most important thing remains the development of our sport,” Lapierre told the media in Quebec City last week.
There are been a few pit stops from top-name players over the years, including Venus Williams, who went … curling in 2014. And that tends to raise expectations.
“I was in the lobby of the hotel and a man asked me, “Oh, we won’t have Serena this year? And right there, I told myself, ‘Oh boy, if that’s what the people in Quebec expect, we’ll never make it,” Lapierre said.
From November to September
The tournament has already changed its dates, to try to attract better fields.
Previously, it was held the first week of November (back when the WTA Tour season was longer). The slot was attractive in terms of potentially attracting last-minute top-20 players looking for a few extra points to try to qualifying for the year-end finals. But on the down side, it took place long after the players left North America after the US Open.
The competing tournaments in that slot were in Europe. And since the Tour finals were held in Europe from the time the event left New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2000 until the move to Singapore in 2014, Quebec was at a disadvantage.
So they tried something else. The event was moved to the week after the US Open, in the hopes of attracting players before they went on to Europe or the fall Asian swing.
Sporadic appearances by Bouchard
That didn’t work, either.
The fall Asian swing begins the same week, with a competing International-level event in Hiroshima, Japan.
In addition, the rare presence of potentially its biggest drawing card, home favorite Genie Bouchard, hasn’t helped matters.
After reaching the semifinals in 2013, the Montrealer has returned only once – in 2016, for an appearance fee that stretched the tournament’s budget and ended up not paying dividends.
Bouchard lost in meltdown fashion to Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia in the second round in 2016, even hearing boos from her home crowd.
This year, Bouchard opted for Hiroshima, where she lost to Nao Hibino in the first round.
A summer outdoor event?
The tournament has looked into the possibility of holding it outdoors, during the North American summer swing. If Lapierre had his druthers, it would be in February in the leadup to Indian Wells and Miami although the venue, at Laval University, is more booked up during that period of the year.
Times change. And sometimes a tournament has its day. There are plenty of women’s events in North America that have not survived over the last few decades, including San Diego, Los Angeles and Memphis.
But it would be a shame if the Coupe Banque Nationale became another casualty, and ended up in the Far East.