40 LOVE History: Classy Québec City
Published September 15, 2013 12:00
QUÉBEC CITY, Canada - The Bell Challenge has been one of the classiest WTA stops for 21 years now, ever since it began in 1993 from a Tennis Canada initiative to offer a high-quality international sporting event. And what makes it so classy? It's not just because of its fantastic roster of former champions, it's because the stars of the WTA have said so themselves - it has been voted the WTA's International Tournament Of The Year a record eight times, including every year from 1995 to 2000.
Rewind back to that inaugural year in 1993, though, and a legendary field came to the tournament - Pam Shriver, Helena Sukova, Natasha Zvereva, Katerina Maleeva, Chanda Rubin, Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Nathalie Tauziat - all of whom had been in, were in, or were going to be in the Top 10 at some point. And that year it was a No.3-seeded Tauziat who came away with the title, beating three Canadians en route to the final before serve-and-volleying her way past a No.4-seeded Maleeva.
That most definitely wasn't the last phenomenal field the tournament has yielded - in fact some of its champions are among the all-time greatest players in women's tennis history, like former World No.1s Jennifer Capriati, Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport (who were champions here in 1999, 2003 and 2007, respectively) and reigning Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli (who won this title in 2006).
There have been some pretty noteworthy doubles champions here as well: Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs won this title together in 1997, then went on to win three Grand Slam doubles titles in 2000 and 2001; Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won here in 2003 and went on to win the gold medal at the Athens Olympics the next year, which began a tennis boom in China that is still growing today; and one of today's top teams, Abigail Spears and Raquel Kops-Jones, conquered Québec City two years ago.
But why do the players like this tournament so much? Lucie Safarova may have one of the answers.
"Being in Québec is really nice. It's a beautiful city. I had some nice walks this week when the weather was better than it is now!" the Czech said earlier this week. "My favorite place to eat here is a small, low key crêpe place called Le Billig. I go back there every year I play this tournament. And I also like a place called The Bagel Factory - they bake their own bagels there, and it's such a nice place!"
Marina Erakovic, who played Safarova for the 2013 title on Sunday, had a similar answer to the Czech.
"I love Québec City. It's one of my favorite tournaments. Unfortunately last year I couldn't make it because I was injured, but every year I love coming back here, especially because they make these awesome crêpes with nutella everywhere you go. Some great restaurants, too - it's just a cool vibe."
Here's to another two decades of crêpes, cool vibes and class at the Bell Challenge in Québec.