RECENTLY crowned Wimbledon junior champion Filip Peliwo will make a triumphant homecoming this week, starring on centre court in a feature match at the Odlum Brown Van Open hosted by West Vancouver's Hollyburn Country Club.
On Thursday tournament director Ryan Clark said that although the VanOpen's draw is not yet finalized, Peliwo, a wild-card entrant, is scheduled to play an evening feature match Tuesday night, opening his tournament on centre court.
The 18-year-old North Vancouver native is in the midst of an incredible run on the junior tennis circuit, scoring runnerup finishes at the Australian Open and French Open before winning Wimbledon to become the first Canadian male to win any Grand Slam singles title.
The North Shore News caught up with Peliwo by phone from Montreal Thursday as he was getting ready for his flight back to the West Coast and the young star was clearly thrilled by the thought of taking centre stage at the tournament he grew up watching.
"I'm unbelievably excited," he said. "It's great just to go home. And to be able to play a tournament near my house where there's going to be a load of people I know, a bunch of friends coming and my family, a big crowd of Vancouverites cheering for me, it's going to be a great feeling."
There should be a large and partisan home crowd there to cheer Peliwo on, said Clark.
"This is huge," he said. "It's a pretty rare day - this might be once every 20, 30, 40 years that something like this happens, where you have a guy who's reigning Wimbledon junior champion who happens to be from down the block showing up at a local tournament like this."
Life has been pretty hectic for Peliwo since his Wimbledon win made him an overnight sensation in the Canadian tennis world.
"Interviews left and right, people asking me for pictures," he said with a laugh. "It's calming down a little bit but now that I'm going to Vancouver it's starting to speed up again."
The newfound fame has forced him to make sure he keeps his main focus on his game but the Wimbledon win has also given him a lot of belief in his own abilities.
"It's a huge confidence booster," he said. "I'm trying not to think too much about it because it's in the past, obviously, and because I won there doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to do the same at every other tournament, but I'm trying to take what I can from there that can help me and focus on the next (event). Every week is a new tournament and it's going to be different every week."
Peliwo's assertion that every week is different becomes even more pronounced this week as he'll be moving up from the junior ranks to the highest-level professional tournament he's ever played. Peliwo has already played in a few smaller pro events - the VanOpen is a $200,000 tournament, one step below the main tour - and he knows that switching from junior to pro opponents is a huge jump.
"In the pro level the players just do everything better," he said. "They're stronger, they're faster, they hit the ball harder, they make more shots, they're going to really put a lot of pressure on you off the return and the serving is big. Basically it's just better from every aspect of the game. The only difference from my side mentally is the fact that I'm the complete underdog, I think, looking at the rankings, so I'm just going to go out and play and put pressure on them. I've got nothing to lose and everything to win. I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to enjoy it and see where my game takes me."
Clark, the tournament director who is also the CEO of Tennis B.C. and has watched Peliwo come up through the junior ranks, agreed that expectations need to be tempered for a player just starting to make the jump from junior to pro.
"We don't want to put any expectations on him," he said. "When you go from juniors to pro you're dealing with older, bigger, stronger guys. The good news is he'll have a lot of confidence coming in but he's playing big, strong guys who have been around for a while. It's all new for him."
Whatever happens on the court, Clark said he's certain Peliwo will put up a good fight.
"From what I've seen it's his tenacity and his work ethic that has taken him so far. He's skilled, he's quick and he's very tenacious. He's a very good fighter."
The tournament starts this weekend with qualifying draws that are free for spectators. Once the main draws begin on Monday the top contenders on the men's side will be three-time VanOpen champion Dudi Sela, Israel's No. 1 player, and defending champion James Ward. On the women's side all eyes will be on Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a former world top-30 player known as the Lady Gaga of tennis because of her flair for fashion.
"Google her name and click on 'Images,'" said Clark. "You'll laugh."
One other big draw will be a player who's not even in the draw. Retired superstar Martina Hingis, winner of five Grand Slam singles titles, will be on hand Tuesday to show off a tennis fashion line designed with Vancouver-based Tonic Lifestyle Apparel and will then play an exhibition match on Wednesday evening.
Visit www.vanopen.com for full tournament information and to purchase tickets.