Sports

Michael Downey returns to helm of Tennis Canada, taking office as CEO in July

National Bank president and CEO Louis Vachon, Tennis Canada president and CEO Kelly Murumets and vice-president Eugene Lapierre pose for a photo after announcing a renewed partnership for a six-year term Tuesday, July 19, 2016 in Montreal. Murumets left Tennis Canada at the end of last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

National Bank president and CEO Louis Vachon, Tennis Canada president and CEO Kelly Murumets and vice-president Eugene Lapierre pose for a photo after announcing a renewed partnership for a six-year term Tuesday, July 19, 2016 in Montreal. Murumets left Tennis Canada at the end of last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

TORONTO — Family connections are bringing Michael Downey's career full circle.

Downey is returning to Tennis Canada as its chief executive officer, a position he held from 2004 to '13 before leaving to head up the British Lawn Tennis Association.

"While my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed living in Britain, there was a call to reconnect with family and friends," Downey said during a conference call Thursday. "I have two sons, a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old who live in the Toronto area.

"I just don't get to see them enough. Now, being based in Toronto I'm going to be able to spend more time with my sons as they're in post-secondary school, while also lead tennis in Canada, which is so important and a great opportunity."

Downey officially takes over in July. He succeeds Kelly Murumets, who left Tennis Canada at the end of last year.

"We're just so happy to be able to welcome Michael back to Tennis Canada, and just as importantly to welcome him back to Canada," Tennis Canada board chairman Derrick Rowe said. "We interviewed some very very talented people and Michael, obviously, was the selection.

"We couldn't be happier."

Downey's return comes at a heady time for Canadian tennis.

Hard-serving Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., reached last year's Wimbledon final, losing to World No. 1 Andy Murray of Britain, and finished third in the ATP rankings — the best ever by a Canadian. The country's Davis Cup team remains in the elite World Group for a sixth straight year and will host Britain next month in Ottawa.

Eugenie Bouchard, 22, of Westmount, Que., remains Canada's top-ranked women's player at No. 46 but was fourth in October 2014 after reaching the Wimbledon final.

Canada also boasts three players in the world junior boy's top-10 rankings, led by Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime at No. 2. Vancouver's Benjamin Sigouin stands fourth while Denis Shapovalov of Thornhill, Ont., is sixth.

Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., is No. 29 in the junior girls standings.

"There's no better situation to come into than one (where) the sport is actually quite healthy," Downey said. "At the end of the day, if the sport is doing really well I think there's always an opportunity to try and actually generate more revenues that can then be plowed back into the sport.

"Whether they're plowed back into the performance side or participation side we need to take full advantage of that. It's not that the staff isn't doing that now but it's sure an area I'd want to explore because these are times you have to take full advantage of to actually grease the engine to get further success moving forward."

And although tennis is succeeding in Canada, Downey said it's important to always continue looking at how to grow the game.

"With the sport doing well, this is about generally enhancing it," he said. "Looking at the opportunities and say, 'How do we go deeper to uncover those things or maybe generate more growth in certain areas?'

"There may be pockets where more exploratory is needed to actually look at how to unlock some of that growth, whether that's in park courts in local authorities where the sport has an opportunity to break through. That may be an area we want to explore to complement the great growth that we're seeing in tennis clubs across the country."

Downey admits he'll leave Britain with some regret.

"The sport now is turning the corner, we're seeing signs of growth after over 10 years of decline so it's tough to leave that situation," Downey said. "I have mixed feelings but I think that's good because it's always better to be leaving a place when you're actually doing really well and enjoying it.

"When Derrick gave me a call . . . I just had to go for it because jobs like this don't come around very often, especially when things are going well with Tennis Canada and especially when it met the personal needs of my wife and I wanting to come back to this great country."