Canadian For A Day (And I Liked It)
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
Everyone’s talking about moving to Canada if a certain Presidential candidate finds his way to the White House next fall. If you’re thinking of moving, I already got the jump on you. I was a Canadian for a day, and it was fantastic. Just watch your mouth and you’ll be fine.
Two weeks ago, I flew to Guadeloupe to attend the historic Davis Cup first round tie between France and Canada. I spent a week in that slice of French paradise in January, and though I needed no excuse to return so soon, I now had one: to be there for the most important pro tennis event in the history of the Caribbean.
In December, France chose to host the Davis Cup tie off of the French mainland and away from Roland Garros for the first time in the team’s 112-year history. Immediately, the decision set off alarms throughout the French tennis community. A long and torturous series of events ensued after the announcement. First, the island chain’s government wasn’t sure they could afford the price tag that came with the event for security and infrastructure. The mainland agreed to cover extra expenses, which should have quelled the controversy, but when Gaels Monfils publicly questioned Captain Yannick Noah’s choice of the venue from the Australian Open in January, it churned up more doubt about the decision. France’s national tennis director Gilbert Ysern was sacked in February, and sadly, for the tennis fans of Guadeloupe, the whole thing seemed cursed.
France’s luck changed when Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor were unable to play. The French went on to beat Canada 5-0 that weekend.
I contacted Trevor D’Orsay of the Supporters Section, a Canadian company who places fans in the center of the action whenever Canada plays abroad—be it hockey, curling, soccer, baseball or tennis. D’Orsay graciously allowed me to attend a pre-tie social at the Velodrome, the cycling stadium which served as the dumping ground for the terre battue shipped in from the mainland on which the competition was played. It’s always a good time when you tailgate with like-minded fans, especially when you and your fellow supporters are outnumbered 99-1. D’Orsay brought about 60 fans together to salute the team. The fans were joined by Canadian junior players, who had dusted the French and Guadeloupean teams in Petit A’s competition in the week leading up to the tie.
I knew I was among my peers when a host of the event dejectedly announced that he’d specifically requested bacon and sausage for the early morning party in the stadium, but that request was shut down due to the Rules of Continental Breakfast. Dozens of sad Croque Monsieurs sans Jambon sat in neat rows and were largely being ignored. The fans were too interested in warming up their vocal chords and practicing cheers to notice.
A bit of background: I have followed the rise of Milos Raonic since he was #800 in the world when I met him in Montreal in 2011, and he barely spoke French or English. My seven-year old daughter got her first ball signed as a fan by Raonic as a one-year old in Montreal. I was lucky enough to watch Genie Bouchard’s rise as she came to Washington every year due to her agency ties. This blog’s first interview five years ago featured Quebec’s Stephanie DuBois. It’s fair to say that I route for Canadians on the tour, and with the ups-and-downs of American tennis since 2011, it’s always good to have a bevy of talented backups players for whom to cheer.
I did get some curious questions from the Canada contingent, like “Why aren’t you in Australia cheering on your Americans?” I explained that I wanted to see how Guadeloupe hosted the event and I wanted to see whether the the drama-fest that led up to the tie would be a factor at all once the first ball was hit. (It wasn’t).
But the biggest reason I wasn’t in Kooyong is because the flight was six times longer.
When one of the Canadian supporters asked if I’d like to sit with them during the rubbers, I was pleased as punch. Red fruit punch. They set me up with a Maple Leaf bandana, a Tennis Canada hat and a fierce Canada t-shirt. I robed up as my inner Canada fan finally liberated itself. I could now be myself, or at least, I thought I could easily pass for a Canadian.
Their hospitality was highly appreciated, even though I was to accidentally test it.
It was die-hard city as soon as the Canadian supporters began the long march to their seats. The section was screaming even as the players began to warm up. I can’t remember witnessing more fired-up fans in an alcohol-free environment ever. The stands were packed with Guadeloupeans, who danced, sang and bull-horned their way through that Friday. They even got Yannick Noah to do a little dance and hop into the stands at the end of the day. It was tennis with all the love of football. As a guy who comes from a place where tennis is a distant sixth in the love of the fan public, it felt good to see the emotions rain down on our fair sport.
We were seated in the front rows behind the benches of both teams. We beat drums. We waved flags. We screamed “Frank the Tank!” and “Hey Vasek!” We all had fun. I had so much fun that I forgot where I was and what I was doing. The patriotism and the level of support was so strong on both sides, I forgot that I was actually representing 30 million Canadians for a moment. There were questionable line calls against Pospisil, and like a slightly-crass American, I slipped right into Baltimore Ravens fan mode and shouted profanity about a bad call. The call was indeed bullshit ump, but I needn’t have screamed that at you.
Because the second I did, I felt a hand from behind rest on my right shoulder. It lightly prodded me to sit down and I immediately complied. I never even looked back to see who had put their hand on my shoulder in such an effective, gentle and non-verbal manner. I sat back down and never crossed that line again. It’s one thing to represent another nation, but far worse to misrepresent their people by bringing my aggro fan game and trying to pass that off as Canadian. Lesson immediately learned: you don’t have to be crude to show your dedication. I will try to remember that in the fall.
The Canadian contingent maintained their good cheer despite it all. Despite not winning a set that day, despite Pospisil leading 5-1 in the first set before a meltdown, and despite the sad fact that the line for the concessions stand was an hour long for a sandwich or a drink. I have never seen such overwhelmed concessions for a crowd of more than 8,000.
Not that the Canadians would have noticed, but there was only a single souvenir tent, run by the FFT, which was absolutely mobbed and contained only French gear. You couldn’t even see the merchandise offered for sale without waiting in a ten minute line to get close enough to gaze at their wares. It was both refreshing and inconvenient to see the FFT not trying too hard to make it convenient for a tennis fan to part with his sweet euros. In hindsight, it was simply bizarre.
You have my blessing to move to Canada now. Great tennis players, or as I like to say, the biggest overachievers in the sport. With a fraction of the resources of the USTA, they produce an impressive share of on-court success and can boast a very active group of supporters. They also like bacon and so do I. Thanks again to the Supporters Section and next time, I’m bringing bacon for everyone, some of which I will shove into my pie hole of a sailor’s mouth.