Fan Stories

Vancouver Open: Life on the Challenger Tour

Fan story from a non Federer day out at the Hollyburn Country Club

This story is about my experience at the VanOpen. My first non-Fed story. I have been so fortunate to see the maestro play in Indian Wells many times, the USO last year and Seattle for the Match for Africa.

Busy draining my bank account with expensive tickets, travel, etc. I also make a pilgrimage to the Odlum Brown VanOpen every August.

It is a beautiful setting in West Vancouver overlooking the city. From the road, it's a steep hill down towards the Hollyburn Country Club. Parking at the top with a nice walk down through the trees, past the many practice courts, the clubhouse, the parking lot full of expensive vehicles and finally to the tournament.

The club has hard, grass and clay courts. Twenty-five in all. All white must be worn by the members on court. There is one main court and several others for the event.

Past and present alumni include Marcos Baghdatis, Daniel Evans, Vasek Pospisil, Sam Querrey, Johanna Konta, Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova, Kevin Anderson and even Andy Murray. This year, the whole event sold out.

VanOpen Ticket Pricing

VanOpen 2019

Let's take a look at pricing. A weekly pass is only $240 CAD. I went for a day and paid $40. Compare that to the US Open ticket prices that we attended last year. For a day and evening session, first round, was $600 CAD for 2nd tier seats!

The players at the VanOpen are quite often the ones you can see at a Slam tournament. Oh, I'm not in any way saying a challenger event is the same calibre BUT you can watch some fine competition at a fraction of the price. And be within metres of the players.

The Tournament

VanOpen Chasllenger 19

Back to the tournament. As we walked down the hill towards the clubhouse, Hyeon Chung was walking two steps ahead of us. Of course, a photo was in order.

Chung Pic

Down to centre court. The best seats are at the top of the stands. There one can watch two matches at the same time as the Polygon court is right behind. We didn't arrive until late afternoon (earlier watching Fed lose to Rublev).

We started with a WTA match, a Canadian teenager, Fernandez, who managed to make it to the semis. Behind us was Liam Broady over Malek Jaziri.

After that was Kokkinakis beating Koepfer. Now that's where the guy is…like so many!

Koepfer Kokk

The main match of the evening was Maxime Janvier over Hyeon Chung in two sets. I was impressed with the Frenchman's game. He took Chung's time away with the ball landing at Chung's feet many times. Surprisingly, Chung didn't try any new tactics. The match was over in no time.


Behind us was now was a woman's doubles match. The Japanese pair Hbino and Kato vs Canadians Fung and Vagramov. The Japanese won the tournament on Saturday. The last match of the day included Lindstedt and O'Mara over two Canadians, Baadi and Draxl.

All in all, great weather, picnic dinner (no hot dogs and Gatorade a la US Open), up close and personal to the players. A lovely sunset on the drive home!

Sue's Car

Looking at the draw, it brings home the fact that the margins are so incredibly small between making a run at a major tournament and living on the Challenger Tour the rest of your days.

Check out the Challenger Tour events in your area. Sure, you won't see Mr Federer play, but some great competition at a fraction of the price.

I'll be back next year for another great day of tennis!



Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.

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  1. The location itself is beautiful enough for … caravaning? I don’t like big arenas like Arthur Ashe. What can you see, seating 100 miles from the court?

    Top players should be obliged to play at least one Challenger in a season 🙂

      1. I wondered the same, it’s stupid to watch it there if it isn’t from the first rows ¿right?
        So you better spend a lot of money or not at all.

      2. Yeah in a way, but if that’s all that is available and it was the difference between Fed or no Fed, I’d go 😆 just not sure I’d enjoy watching multiple sessions/matches where you can barely see the ball.

        It can get a bit like that at the O2, not exactly a bad view but if you are far back it’s not ideal.

      3. No, I didn’t want to sit up high. Pointless for me anyway. Two days there was enough. Fed night session, crazy experience.

  2. Nice Post Sue. Yes, I enjoy smaller tournaments too. Over 20 years ago I belonged to a tennis club in Southern California that hosted the WTA LA stop, Manhattan Country Club. it was so small and personal you could see every grommet on the players shoes.
    They also hosted local wild cards from the nearby universities and it was shocking to see the huge difference between top college players and struggling pros. This goes to your comment about the thin margins at the pro ranks. Its a herculean step up to the pros.

    1. Ah interesting, do you think the level between top college tennis and pros is that much different? I don’t, certainly not the best players in Div 1, plenty of college players could compete with pros. But doing it week in, week out and making a career is tough. Steve Johnson and Mackie McDonald have managed it. Wonder what Universities it was? UCLA is good.

      1. I thought, Donna meant, top college players are shockingly better than struggling pros. Take Sandgren in Australia (or Sandgren was not/is not a college player?)

      2. I read it as the reverse. Sandgren is another example of college player who has gone on to be a very good player. Let’s see if he beats Murray, I like his game actually.

  3. I like precincts where the spectators sit close to the court, not those megaliths with stands rising from 10 m to 30 m at a 70º angle from where you need binoculars just to check where the playing rectangle actually is…

    1. Couldn’t agree more.Found those huge flights of steps with no handrails at the O2 distinctly
      unnerving.Surprised there haven’t been accidents there,because if you slip there is nothing to
      stop you from falling from top to bottom.

      1. Hey Annie, I could see some idiot on their cell doing just that. At CC in Indian Wells, on the top tier is plexiglass at the end of the stairs to save you.

    2. On ATP Tour you find such arenas only in tennis-wise peripheral countries – Poland, Holland, partly Germany (Stuttgart) Sweden, Portugal (???).
      Would Roger like to play on such courts?

      1. There are loads of nice small 250 tournaments across Europe in CZ, France, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Croatia etc.

        Fed played Stockholm before which is at a tennis club.

  4. There’s a lot to be said for smaller tournaments (although this one sounds like quite a large “small” tournament!). Back in the 80s and 90s, I used to go sometimes to the Beckenham tournament as it was fairly local to me. Nothing like as flash as the venue you went to, Sue – back then it was just grass courts created for a week on the local cricket club’s pitches (said club these days hosts first-class and occasionally international cricket matches, I believe), with temporary stands – but it was on in the second week of the French Open, so hoovered up early losers from that tournament and players who wanted to get started on the grass as soon as possible. We saw some big names like Pat Rafter there, and I remember almost literally rubbing shoulders with Boris Becker only a few weeks before he went on to win Wimbledon for the first time! It’s now been replaced by the Surbiton tournament, but I really did appreciate the chance to go and watch some quality tennis at close quarters. (You can of course do the same thing on the outside courts at Wimbledon, but it’s not quite the same!)

  5. A very interesting account Sue.
    Smaller tournaments Definately more spectator friendly,food better quality,no huge queues etc.
    It sounds as though you had a great time.

      1. Yes Halle sounds great.
        Also Densboch in Holland…
        A great little town.We went there a couple of years ago to see the Heironomous Bosch
        Exhibition and loved it.Really vibrant town with lots of history and many excellent
        restaurants.I think it’s a grass court tournament,but only an hour by train from Amsterdam.Halle a bit tricky to get to from the UK.

      2. Yes, those of you in Europe are so fortunate to have all these tournaments on your doorstep.
        Other than this one, I have to fly thousands of kms.

  6. Something else I forgot to mention. At this tournament, the players are billetted out with a family of the the country club, if they choose to do so.
    It’s a nice change for the players to live a week or so in someone’s home versus another hotel room.

      1. Is holding of domesticated cougars (kind of kittens, right?) a duty for Country Club members? 😉

  7. Sue, thanks for your account. As a Canadian I was keeping track of the matches, especially for Leylah Annie Fernandez, but it wasn’t always easy to get up-to-date info. Tennis Canada needs to get its act together.

    I think this Challenger has won the ATP best Challenger award, and from your account it is easy to see why. I live in Toronto so I do get to go to the Rogers Cup each year. But I wish Vancouver wasn’t so far away – this sounds like a great tourney to attend.

    1. Hey Hartt, Rogers Cup ain’t so bad. Yes, it’s won the award the last two years I believe. I have the ATP/WTA app on my phone and I can follow the challenger tour with that. Woman’s matches not so easy though.

    1. And thanks for writing this btw. there is no content about Challengers on the blog and I think they are cool. There is one played near my home city but I’ve never been, should have really.

      1. You are welcome, Jonathan. We all appreciate your blog.
        Yeah, the car is just under $200,000. I’d be terrified to drive it. A lot of expensive cars in that parking lot.

      1. @Jon
        I’m watching from time to time. Stream as such has good quality but it looks like it was single stationary IP camera, placed on on of the short sides of the court, so you watch always the back of the player on the camera side and the opponent somewhere on on the other end of the world. No zooming or moving camera to catch the player, so if the player on camera side stays close to the wall, you don’t see him at all.

        Following such streaming is quite annoying.

      2. But it’s free, so there is not much to complain about! And the bit rate and resolution are quite good in most cases. Just try it and see. It’s a click distance away and more often than not there is some live match somewhere. Plus you can re-watch matches from the last 48 h or so.
        Indeed, in a few USA Challenger tournaments there is more than one camera, some at ground level that move and/or zoom and a commentator. Sure enough, it’s not the quite the real thing but it’s close to a “proper” TV coverage.
        The major problem with it? Most players/matches are not interesting to watch, but if you suffer from insomnia, you are in for a treat.

  8. Sounds really cool and lovely, glad you had a great day, Sue. Thanks for writing.
    Canadian summer looks so pleasant, I still remember a huge strawberry martini I had at the cafe in Stanley Park years ago 😀 No idea it’s still there…
    Local events are great. Easy to get to and no flights, accommodation needed. Yeah, it’s fat chance but I wish Fed would play Nice (250) or Sophia Antipolis (challenger) though they are on clay. Even the posh Monte-Carlo CC is small enough to feel intimate to enjoy watching so I would recommend anybody to try at least once.

  9. I prefer challenger tournaments over all Wimbledon tournaments when it’s the final and Roger has 2 CPs on Novak Djokovic.

    The challengers are way more chill and family-friendly.

    Whereas the Wimbledon tournaments (in the context described above) are not as relaxed and usually make you want to throw up all over everyone around and scream till your throat is bleeding and beg the universe wake you up from this horrifying nightmare that lives on and on and on in your memory.

    So yeah – challengers are way cooler.

  10. Totally agree. Small tournaments are so much more personal. going to Monte Carlo Masters for years now and the atmosphere is great, you’re close to the players and the tickets are affordable. Also love to go to Halle and the Rotterdam 500 tournament. Went to RG but it is too crowded. Smaller tournaments are great to see some high lass matches.

  11. Fed scheduled to hit today 1 hour with Thiem on GRANDSTAND. Unfortunately I cannot find streaming for that. Maybe on USO Twitter? It’s 1:.00-12:00 local time.

  12. @Jon
    Off-topic (sorry).
    I’m experimenting with NordVPN (recommended by you). I have 2 “physical” ISP’s, both LTE (no cables available in the forest). When I connect to an NordVPN server, it seems, my local “real” ISP is somehow detecting it and reducing the connection speed or II’m even losing the connectivity at all.
    Any idea, how/why this could happen?

  13. What location are you connecting to?

    There will always be a speed slow down if you are connecting to a server far away? The USA, for example, would be slower as you are hopping through a server thousands of miles away.

    What speeds do you get via non VPN use?

    I guess the ISP could know NordVPN server IP ranges and throttle but I doubt it. Never heard that before. Any other VPN you can test to compare? Or connect to a Polish server and do a speed test.

    1. I’m experimenting every option. Choosing quick connect (usually connects to an US server), choosing Poland and then the fastest server.
      With non-VPN I get about 30 Mbps (down) from one of my ISP’s and about 20 Mbps from another.
      Yeah, I’m using Speedtest all the time to see changes, but via VPN Speedtest tests connection between his own and some other server).
      But the problem is not that the communication is slowing down but I’m simply losing the connection to Internet. After disconnecting VPN, the connectivity is back in a second.

      So it looks for me like disabling the connectivity by the ISP just after detecting the transfer is routed to VPN server.

      Maybe specific for mobile operators?

      1. To have VPN work for security I only need to find a fast server (must be in Poland, I guess), no matter where.
        If I want to go through geoblocking, I need a server in the country, for which geoblocking is not active).

        Must experiment more 🙂

        Thanks for hints 🙂

      2. @Jon
        Thanks again for hints 🙂
        Right now I’m OK since some hours with a server in Poland, chosen by NordVPN 🙂

  14. Thanks for writing this up Sue, sounds fun! Seems impossible there isn’t anything in New England, but there isn’t. Or I haven’t found it. As you say, not a way to see established big names – unless they’re on a comeback – but you never know what young player you might see who’s going to go on to have a great career.

    Wonder if anyone on the blog is on holiday in Majorca?

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