Rik De Voest has fond memories of Odlum Brown VanOpen in his final pro tennis tournament
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Rik De Voest is about to play in his final professional tennis tournament, so of course, this one holds a special place in his heart.
However, it's not just because of his impending retirement or the spectacular scenery.
The Odlum Brown VanOpen at Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver has had a lasting impact on De Voest's life. He met his wife, Carolyn, here in 2005. They now have a baby son, born March 4.
On the hard court at Hollyburn, De Voest is also a men's singles champion and a two-time doubles champion. And he'll have one more go at it before hanging up the racket after this year's competition, which began with Saturday qualifiers.
"After 16 years on the (ATP World Tour), it was toward the end of my career and I decided this would be a special spot for me to finish my career," said De Voest on Monday morning, prior to his evening match with American qualifier Jason Jung in men's singles.
"It holds so many memories. It's where my new chapter of life began with my wife and now residing here."
De Voest defeated Jung in a marathon match later in the evening.
A back-and-forth contest in which both players seemed fatigued toward the end, the match lasted two hours and 30 minutes, with De Voest finally emerging victorious in three sets 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4).
De Voest, 34 years of age and a professional tennis player since 1999, now calls Lynn Valley in North Vancouver his home.
For him to travel to the Odlum Brown VanOpen, it's as simple as getting on the freeway, heading west, hanging a right and another right and he's there.
He was born in Italy and moved to South Africa as a child.
But he has his permanent residency card for Canada, and entered the tournament billed as the local guy to watch; there are no other Canadians in the men's singles draw.
His first-ever trip to Vancouver was for the 2005 tournament, where he met Carolyn, an athletic director at Hollyburn and principal of Better Your Best Coaching -- an organization that delivers works with athletes, executives and entrepreneurs, according to its Twitter account.
He won the men's singles event the following year.
De Voest gained entry into this year's competition through a wild card spot.
"The fact that he just lives minutes down the road ... this has essentially been his home club for the last five years," said tournament director Ryan Clark.
"He's as much as a local player you can get."
Whether it is today or after what would definitely be the perfect Hollywood ending if he were to make it to Sunday's final, De Voest said he's already prepared for life beyond tennis.
Currently ranked 635th in the world, his career accomplishments include an appearance at Wimbledon and a personal best ranking of 110th in the world in the summer of 2006 -- around the time of his first win in Vancouver.
It was a dream-come-true for De Voest when he represented South Africa in the Davis Cup, and this year won the Davis Cup Commitment Award.
He is only one of four competitors from South Africa to achieve such an award.
"To have all the fans and support you get out there, it's definitely a unique experience," said De Voest.
"It's definitely one I've embraced. I find I always play my best tennis during Davis Cup play, so I've thoroughly enjoyed it."
His time on the professional tours has given him many good memories. Now, it's time to move onto something else. De Voest is currently studying to attain his real estate licence.
"It's been a while coming. I've come to terms knowing this will be my final event," he said.
"But at the same time, I've spent my whole childhood and adulthood -- pretty much my whole life -- involved in tennis. So for it to finally be coming to an end is definitely a new chapter and probably a little bit emotional."
His decision to move on from pro tennis shouldn't be confused with giving up. The competitive juices still flow for this particular event.
"I want to go out on my terms and play tennis to the best of my ability," said De Voest.
"As long as I go out there and compete hard and finish the way I want to my finish my career."