Vancouver’s Big Win: Earning the Right to Host the Laver Cup

To understand how Vancouver — which, as Canada’s third-largest city, has long stood in the tennis shadow of Toronto and Montreal — won the right to host the 2023 Laver Cup, start with the big picture. From 2,500 feet.

In April 2019, the morning after Laver Cup officials flew in from New York, the first thing their Vancouver hosts did was pile them into a seaplane.

Climbing out of Vancouver Harbour, the pilot circled above skyscrapers and sports arenas before heading north over cedar trees and glacial lakes toward Black Tusk, the region’s volcanic peak. Whistler Mountain beckoned in the distance. After an hour of sightseeing, the plane splashed back down across from the 2010 Olympic Cauldron.

It was a powerful reminder of the city’s hosting legacy.

Steve Zacks, the chief executive of the Laver Cup, remembers putting a lot of trust in the pilot. “Once you’re up there, it’s just a beautiful perspective of the city and all the surroundings,” he said in an interview.

But it was Vancouver’s experience — and its burgeoning grass-roots tennis scene — that convinced him and his team to take the Laver Cup to a city that hadn’t had a big-time tennis event in a half-century.

“The appeal of Vancouver is that it’s a modern city, a business center, and plus, they had the infrastructure and experience to host a major sporting event,” he said.

The Olympic Cauldron from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. For the Laver Cup, the Cauldron will be lit up in red (for Team World) and blue (for Team Europe).Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Since the 2010 Winter Games, Vancouver has been the site of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, several Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup qualifying matches for Canada’s national tennis squads, Rugby Sevens, and an L.P.G.A. golf tournament. And, in 2026, Vancouver will be a host city for the FIFA Men’s World Cup.

In 2025, Vancouver and Whistler will also host the Invictus Games, an international adaptive sports competition for wounded service members.

As a professional hockey town, Vancouver’s elite tennis résumé has been thin, with a well-regarded, but second-tier, men’s professional tournament in recent years.

The last time Vancouver was a stop on the men’s international circuit was in 1973, and the tournament was sponsored by a cigarette company. Rod Laver himself won the Vancouver tournament in 1970, its first year.

Laver, 85, will be a guest at the team event, which Roger Federer cocreated in his honor. For three days starting Friday, the Laver Cup will lay out the signature black court inside Rogers Arena to showcase six of the top players from Europe against six from the rest of the world. Federer, who retired last year, will toss the coin in the final doubles match on Sunday.

“There’s no other way to invite the greats of tennis to Vancouver unless they’re playing for their national team,” said Michelle Collens, the senior manager of Sport Hosting Vancouver, and the bid orchestrator. “This is our opportunity to put us on the map.”

While Canada has developed recent stars like Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Leylah Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu, they have emerged from Montreal and Toronto. Those cities host premier tournaments before the United States Open every summer.

Jonathan Wornell, the executive director of British Columbia’s regional federation, Tennis BC, sees the Laver Cup jump-starting generational change. “I think it will cause that next surge in the sport,” he said.

In fact, it has already begun. Every July, Vancouver has one of the largest amateur tennis tournaments in North America. This year, that event — the Stanley Park Open — drew 1,700 participants of all ages, 200 more than in 2022.

Since 2019, players in schools and development programs have doubled, to 24,611 in 2022 from 12,260 participants in 2019, according to Tennis BC.

Juniors are clamoring for spots, and not just in tournaments. The Laver Cup held tryouts for ball kids that drew 360 competitors for just 24 slots.

“The demand for ball kids was insane,” said Sierra Roberts, the manager of the Laver Cup ball crew. “There’s just so much buzz.

“For a lot of the juniors who are going pro,” she said, the players in the tournament are “the heroes they never get to watch or be a ball kid for.”

Helping youth was where this bid began — at a golf tournament. In September 2018, Collens was at a charity golf event outside Vancouver raising money for local children to play organized sports, when she was paired with Dave Pentland, a shipping executive. He was also an avid tennis player.

“I asked him, ‘What do you think about the Laver Cup — is this for real?’” she said. Pentland promised to let her know, as he was leaving the next day for the second iteration of the event, in Chicago. He sent Collens dazzling pictures from the hospitality suites and court; his contacts got Zacks in touch with Collens.

As an event manager for the 2010 Winter Games, Collens specialized in hospitality. In 2019, she had designers make an app for Zacks’s scouting team that held a digital itinerary, with the Laver Cup logo on each site on a map. A mixologist made specialty cocktails named for city highlights.

Still, Boston won for the 2020 event, which was then moved to 2021 because of Covid. The event alternates between Europe and world sites, and London was chosen for 2022. By then, the Laver Cup had engaged a London-based firm to handle soaring interest from about 60 cities, Zacks said.

Vancouver, with its established relationship and international allure, beat out some 20 cities vying to host in 2023 “the Ryder Cup of tennis,” as Zacks calls it. The Laver Cup’s mission, he added, has been to grow the game, bringing it to “new fans and new locations.”

The event begins Thursday with a practice session for the community in Rogers Arena, with ticket proceeds going to a local charity. That night, guests and players will attend a black-tie gala in the glass-windowed convention center overlooking the harbor. The Olympic Cauldron, resting in a fountain outside, will be lit up in the colors of red (for Team World, including Canada and the United States) and blue (Team Europe).

One wrinkle in the meticulous plan appeared when Coldplay sold out two concerts during the Laver Cup at BC Place, a 55,000-seat venue directly across the street from Rogers Arena, with 17,000 seats for tennis. Prices for hotel rooms skyrocketed, Collens acknowledged.

But she reassured Laver Cup officials that they had handled far bigger crowds and simultaneous events, including the Winter Olympics.

“‘I invited you to my city,’” Collens said she told them. “‘I’m going to hold your hand and make sure you have a seamless experience setting this up.’”

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