It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Gavin Ziff since receiving the news of his appointment as the new CEO of Tennis Canada. Discussions about what comes next began immediately, and Ziff is scheduled to officially take over the role in late fall, succeeding longtime CEO Michael Downey who is scheduled to retire at the end of December.
Zev’s decades-long journey with Tennis Canada has been driven by his passion for the sport and the community surrounding it. Having held numerous leadership roles over the years, he most recently served as CEO of Tournaments, leading the ATP National Bank Open and WTA 1000 presented by Rogers Championships in both Toronto and Montreal. He is happy to embark on this new project.
“It is an honor to be appointed as the next CEO of Tennis Canada at this time of growth in our sport,” said the 48-year-old former ballboy. “We have become a world-leading tennis nation under Michael’s excellent leadership, and I look forward to building on his legacy by charting the best possible future for our sport in Canada,” he added.
With a winning mentality rooted in the belief that Canadian tennis can compete with the best in the world in any discipline, Zev has been an integral part of the development of the sport in the country. He played a pivotal role in leading Canadian negotiations to secure equal prize money for WTA players at the National Bank Open, starting in 2027, and was named one of 20 ambassadors for the game.
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Part of his vision for the future includes continuing to build on the exciting success of Canadian players in recent years including Milos Raonic, Bianca Andreescu, Lela Ani Fernandez and Felix Auger-Aliassime who, among others, are inspiring new tennis fans across the country. The growth initiative includes enhancing accessibility by expanding tennis courts across the country and improving existing facilities. With a focus on inclusivity, safety and increased participation, especially among children, the primary goal is to ensure young players not only enter the sport, but stay in it.
“The aura of success internationally has been very important, but what we do with that excitement is where the growth comes in,” says Ziff. “We only have 750 accessible tennis courts across the country. We need more. Given that we have this sport that has international appeal and our players are in good shape, I think this aligns with the opportunity for Canadians to get more involved in helping grow this sport.” Sports.
Over the years, Zev and Downey have developed a close relationship characterized by open and constructive discussions, which has contributed to the rapid growth of the sport in the country. Unprecedented successes, including Andreescu’s 2019 US Open and National Bank Open wins and Canada’s historic Davis Cup victory in 2022, are all part of Downey’s lasting legacy, Ziff says. Moreover, Downey created the framework and infrastructure that allowed these achievements to be achieved, he adds.
“He was a great mentor,” Ziff said. “I wouldn’t have taken this opportunity to be the next CEO if it wasn’t for Michael. He’s very entrepreneurial, very innovative, very creative. The roadmap he’s laid out, the structure of our company, the lines of business, the great people who work in our company, all fall under his leadership, which is part of “His legacy.”
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The symbiotic relationship between the spouses has been an invaluable source of mutual learning.
“I can think of no one better suited to steer the Tennis Canada ship into the future,” said Downey, who spent 15 years as president and CEO of Tennis Canada. “Gavin knows the business inside out and has spent 25 years passionately working for the greater good of our sport. Most recently, he crafted our five-year strategic plan and 10-year revenue forecast for the National Bank Opens. I have every confidence that with Gavin at the helm Team, the Canadian Tennis Association will continue to reach new heights.
Despite his already great business acumen, Zev will devote the next few months to further enriching his knowledge before taking on his new role by attending Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. This prestigious and intensive program is designed to nurture the final stages of developing senior leaders into first-class leaders within their organizations and the wider business arena.
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Zev’s unwavering commitment to excellence and progress is driven by his deep love for the sport, a passion he has carried with him since childhood.
He immigrated to Canada from Johannesburg, South Africa, at the age of five, and tennis was already a major presence in his life. His love of a small tennis club in Thornhill, Ontario became his gateway to integration into his new Canadian community.
He says his story, and that of other immigrants and children of immigrants who dominate the sport in Canada today, exemplifies how tennis can provide opportunity and foster a deep sense of belonging.
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Looking to the future, he acknowledges that the journey to achieve Tennis Canada’s goals is a long one, requiring active participation from the broader tennis community across Canada. It addresses a call to action to communities, municipalities and regional tennis federations across the country, urging their support in expanding the grassroots infrastructure of the sport.
“It takes a village, so hopefully we can get there,” Ziff says. “I’m very excited about it. I just want people to be able to enjoy this sport as much as I did, and see how much fun they can have.”