I attended Rogers Cup in Toronto for qualifying weekend. I’d only ever been to Cincy and wanted to experience what another tournament would be like. Admission was free, so perhaps some of the experiences may have been altered, but most of the things I’ll discuss have more to do with the grounds and courts.
First, let me start off by saying that being in a foreign country limited a few things. One: phone usage. I couldn’t use my phone at all. I only could if I had wifi. The hotel wifi stopped working on my phone when I woke up on Saturday. It still worked on my tablet though. So basically I only had wifi on my phone when I was at Aviva Centre on Centre Court, but I’ll talk about that more in another post. Two: My GPS didn’t work in Canada. One wrong turn off the printed directions and it took an extra hour to get home. Which really sucks when all you want to do is get to America and be able to use data again. Not being able to use technology being from a different country limited the experience.
My biggest problem with Rogers Cup in Toronto was the layout of the grounds. Centre Court is on one side and everything else is on the other. The ONLY way to get to and from Centre Court was this walkway that was maybe twenty feet wide, as seen above in the picture above with the orange circle. To make matters worse, they put activities and food stands in that area to congest it even more. There was a chocolate stand, program stand, and sometimes even people asking if you want to take a picture with a player through an app they use. On either side were closed in areas. One side was a store. The other I think was a bar. So it’s not like one could just go through either to avoid the congestion. You HAD to take that ONE path. On top of that you can only enter Centre from about 3/8’s of it. They block off public access to most of it and there’s few gates to enter from. Part of the reason for this is that the court sits on the road, which is quite a surprise having only been to Cincy and the grounds not being close to a road. Looking back, I should’ve walked around more inside Centre to see if there were other gates and what the other side was like.
There’s only one public entrance onto the grounds. They have one other entrance for VIP. In comparison, Cincy has four public entrances. At first I went to the VIP entrance, then got redirected to the other entrance, which was another block walk. At the entrances, they didn’t look through your bags well. It didn’t feel very secure to me. Mostly they would just take one little peek, although they did use a metal wand detector on your person. Not your bag though. I did like how they allowed you to bring in food and drinks. Cincy only allows one bottle of water, in which you have to take the label off for sponsor purposes, and little amounts of food.
Another problem with the layout was they had food vendors everywhere, so if you were looking for one thing in particular, you’d have to search. They weren’t just all in one place, like they are in Cincy. There’s a lot of room on the grounds and it looks like they could even expand, but what they really need is to be smart with the layout and what they’re putting where. It kind of looks like everything is just thrown around anywhere. There’s little rhyme or reason to any of it. In Cincy you can walk freely and circle the grounds if you’d like. In Toronto, you can only take one straight line once you walk in until you get to the outer courts.
One of the biggest reasons I went to Toronto was because I thought it’d be a great opportunity to get more autographs and see some of the best players in the world from up close in a relaxed setting, since they wouldn’t be playing matches yet. I was very disappointed to find that the practice courts provided little viewing or ability to get close to players. The practice courts are four courts, side by side. They have a few viewing areas. The easiest one to get access to is on one side of the courts, where the picture is taken from above. They have about three rows of seating and some standing room to view from. There is also a viewing deck, which was a new addition this year, that overlooks all the courts. On the far side, there is a VIP only section to view from, but it’s a VIP section, so most people can’t go there. So there’s only one court the public can get close to players, of the four. Most of the top players take the back entrance and don’t see any fans. Some of the lesser players do go out through an exit that goes to the fans, but the player area gate is just a few feet from that exit. There’s little opportunity to see the top players. In comparison to Cincy, Cincy gives you the ability to stand right next to every court on the grounds. There’s back exits on every court, which players often take, but because you’re close to the court, most often players will stop.
Not only was I not able to get close to many of the top players, but I wasn’t able to for the lesser players either. They were in the competition of qualifying and trying to focus on their matches and prepare for them. The best opportunities for any fans to get close to players was after the qualifying matches, so the players I figured nobody would know and I could walk right up to, now became the focus and tougher to get autographs or pictures with. I kind of gave up due to the difficulty the grounds presented after a while.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was finally seeing Urszula Radwanska play a match in person for the first time. I planned on watching the full match. There was one problem though. The court she played on had no seats at all. You had to stand. Even Ula’s coach had to stand the entire match because the people watching the match stood right on the fence of the court. Because of this I didn’t watch the whole match. It’s hard to stand for hours squished by people. Also, that court didn’t have a scoreboard viewable on the playing surface. I heard a few people complain about this as I watched the match.
Most of the courts are nice. The problem is there isn’t enough seating. Courts 2, 3, and 4 only have 100 seats. There’s only two sides to enter the seating from. If you try to sit in the middle of a row, you have to climb over a bunch of people of get to it. There’s not much room in the stands either. A few times you could tell someone was about to fall trying to get to a seat due to the lack of room. Because there’s only 100 seats on those courts, most of the time they were standing room only. Even the grandstand court, which seats 3,000 people, was at full capacity with only standing room available at times. There isn’t enough seats for fans. Like I said earlier, expansion does look possible. They should look into that and get more seats, so more fans can enjoy the matches. Another thing they could’ve done was put some qualifying matches on center court. Cincy does that. Toronto should’ve done that too to allow more fans to comfortably watch matches. Also, I was disappointed I couldn’t watch a match on the Centre Court to see what that experience is like.
When I go to Cincy, parking is free. Whether I have a pass or don’t. In Toronto, you have to pay for parking. It could amount to around $150 more in costs for you to go to a tournament if you plan on staying the entire week. That can make a huge difference if you’re thinking of planning a trip to go to a tournament or not.
I’ve focused on the negatives up to this point, but there were positives of the experience in Toronto too.
The thing I liked the most was that they had courts with shaded areas. Courts 2, 3, and 4 only seated 100 people, but all of it was in the shade, covered by a tent. I wish Cincy had more areas with shaded area. Center has some seats with shade, but all outer courts don’t.
I was impressed with Toronto’s Centre Court. It was a much bigger structure than Cincy’s Center Court. They had stores and food concessions inside the stadium. It was much like a baseball stadium or hockey arena. Cincy’s has that stuff under the stadium. I like Cincy’s because of the simplicity, but it was cool to see a bigger structure because many are probably like it around the world. Toronto has a huge playing surface too. Much bigger than Cincy’s. I will say that Toronto’s stadium is much bigger in person than when I saw it on TV today. Some of the angles are deceptive. The only negative is if you’re seated close to the court, you’ll have to walk up/down a bunch of stairs when you enter/exit. One could see why some people may not get to their seat in time during a changeover.
I loved the autograph sessions in Toronto at the stage of champions. They allow you to take pictures with the player. It creates a great opportunity, you may not otherwise get, to get a picture with a player in particular. I wished Sabine had done one, so I could’ve got a picture with her. Also, they allow you bring anything you want to get signed. I made many pictures to bring to the tournament to get signed and that could give me the opportunity to get those signed. In Cincy they have cards that the players sign and by the time you get up to the player they’re already signed. It’s basically a walk by two second thing. Toronto’s sessions feel more personal and the player signs more autographs. (Although you could say there’s a better chance to get autographs in Cincy other ways and it’s harder in Toronto, so it may even it out a bit more).
Toronto had many different pictures, around the grounds, of players you could take a picture by. They had art murals inside the stadium. They had nice banners of past champions and other players on flag poles. There was also some pictures of players in front of a store. Cincy doesn’t have too much of that. Especially as nice of ones. Toronto also has their draws on ground level, if you’d want to take a picture by that or view it. Cincy’s is way up in the air and would be tough to get a picture with. To view it you have to look up and strain your neck.
While I liked that Toronto’s qualifying rounds were free (Cincy’s aren’t), I felt that more people attended because of this, crowding the grounds and lessening the experience. I’m not sure if this was part of the free weekend or not, but some places on site offered free yogurt and snow cones, which was nice on a hot day when you’re in the sun.
I don’t want to make it sound like I had a bad time in Toronto. While some aspects of the experience were limited, not all of it was. After all, I got to see professional tennis in person and there’s nothing better, as a tennis fan, than that. Tennis is different (and better) live. I got to see a lot of players I like from up close and see them play matches I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to watch, if it was a main draw match and perhaps Nole or Sabine were playing. I thought about how I wished I could experience this every month, rather than just a few weekends back to back during the year. It almost felt like I stole a weekend by getting to do what I love the most, in such a short period of time.
Considering the schedule next year with the Olympics, Cincy is going to be diminished. Rogers Cup won’t, being so much earlier in the calendar. That makes Rogers Cup very appealing next year. The only thing is I wouldn’t go to Toronto for the men. I’d like to go to Montreal for the WTA. I’d love to see what Montreal is like and compare it to Toronto to see which Rogers Cup venue is better. It probably won’t happen, but hopefully one day it will.