Celebrating 20 years of women’s tennis at the Bell Challenge

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Photo: Danielle Burns

Doubles winners (from left to right) Tatjana Malek (Germany), and Kristina Mladenovic (France) who beat the runners-up Alicja Rosolska (Poland) and Heather Watson (Great Britain).

After two days of qualifications, five Canadians, Olympian Aleksandra Wozniak, up-and-comer Eugénie Bouchard (wildcard), Stéphanie Dubois, Marie-Ève Pelletier and Heidi El Tabakh, were left to compete in the singles tournament during the Bell Challenge. On September 10, a special presentation marked the 20th anniversary of the world-class tournament sanctioned by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

Competitors from all over the world were asked at the ceremony to "drop your balls!" Wozniak, who is fluent in French, English and Polish, told the confused players to "throw your balls," which resulted in a frenzy of lobbing into spectators outstretched arms.

Wozniak improved her status from world number 48 to 42 following the recent US open. The 4th seeded Quebecer was favoured by the crowd to become the next champion. After winning a WTA title from Stanford in 2008, the mayor of Blainville (her hometown) was prompted to rename the city "Wozniakville" for 24 hours and present her with a key to the city.

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Bell Challenge champion, Kristen Flipkens, 26, holding up her first WTA trophy at the Laval PEPS. Flipkens travelled alone from Belgium without a coach to participate in the tournament. She specially thanked the massage/physiotherapists who “really helped me with my body this week”.  

She was sidelined with tendonitis from July 2010 to May 2011 and admitted that "it was really tough to get back into that routine to work hard eight hours a day, but I try to focus on the journey, not on the results." After recovering, she qualified for the summer Olympics but lost to Venus Williams. "It was a privilege playing for Canada. I have been dreaming of that since I was a little girl. You know my idol growing up was Monica Seles and watching her in the Olympics in 2000 win the bronze and I really wanted to do that too, and it happened."

Wozniak realizes how lucky she is to be supported by her family. "My parents immigrated from Poland in ‘83. My mom had to work for 25 cents an hour and I am a little girl dreaming of being a professional tennis player! Tennis is such an individual sport and it costs so much money. My parents made so many sacrifices." She liked skating as a little girl, but tennis was her first love. "My dad was already coaching my sister Dorota, and she really inspired me. I would go to every single practice with her and my dad, and then one day I asked my dad to start coaching me too. I was 3 years old."

Wozniak named the number one seeded player, Dominika Cibulkova from Slovakia (14 in the world), when asked who may pose a threat to her. Surprisingly, Cibulkova was beat in the first round and Wozniak's prospects improved after she won her first match in three sets. The 18-year-old Wimbledon junior champion, Eugénie Bouchard, put up a great fight but finally lost to the Czech, Lucie Hradecka, who would eventually go on to the finals.

On Thursday fans heard from director Jacques Hérisset that Wozniak, the last eligible Canadian competitor, was forced to forfeit. In a press release, the disappointed Wozniak told fans, "I injured my shoulder during my warm-up this evening and I won't be able to compete tonight. I will have an MRI in the morning to see exactly what is wrong."

Wozniak admitted that injuries due to overtraining are the toughest part of tennis. "You don't get injured really from playing matches. It's the preparing, the repetition, two times a fitness a day, two times tennis. That's what is heavy on the body." She didn't know that an injury was in her near future. Hopefully, she can get help from her optimism.

"If you have a bad day you smile about it. Whatever happens, happens. You can't control the outcome of all things but you can control certainly how you react to things, so I try to live by that." Fans hope that her injury will not be serious and she will be back on the court soon.

In an upset, Kristen Flipkens from Belgium (ranked 133 in the world) defeated all opponents including the 8th seeded player Lucie Hradecka (ranked 69 in the world) during the final on Sunday. After great composure throughout the match, the small, 5' 5" player, fell to her knees and cried with joy at winning her first WTA title and a $37,000 prize.