Power issues at Montreal’s Rogers Cup cut into the tournament’s record revenue

MONTREAL – There was no shortage of power on the tennis courts, what with Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova all making their tournament debuts on the stadium court Wednesday at the Rogers Cup.

But the tournament tried to carry on in the face of a major power shortage Tuesday that continued to affect the event on Wednesday. When they tally everything up, there's little doubt Tennis Canada lost a lot of revenue as result.

The lights went out Tuesday afternoon, after the second set between Venus Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. And that sent tournament organizers scrambling – on every level.

The outage originally affected some 200,000 people, but Hydro-Québec scrambled to restore power to nearly everyone – except for one little sliver of the city, about 1,000 homes, that happened to include the Rogers Cup tournament site.

Tournament director Eugene Lapierre received a call from the president of the utility himself, explaining that Hydro-Québec had do some load shedding, which resulted in some 20-minute outages staggered around the city's grid. But in the Uniprix Stadium area, which was served by two lines, one failed. And when they tried to re-start the second one after the load-shedding, that one failed, too. The issue was going to take until the wee hours Wednesday morning to fix.

Generators were brought in at least light up the main stadium, and the match featuring Genie Bouchard went on about an hour late. They were noisy, and the smell of gas was evident, but they worked.

The result was an eerie night Tuesday on all levels – capped off by Bouchard's shocking defeat, which sort of sent the tournament into a power failure of its own even though plenty of big stars remained.

Throughout most of Tuesday, the matches were played in silence. The umpire's microphones didn't work, the Internet was down – making it impossible to update scores anywhere. The Hawkeye challenge system was down, which made for one particular amusing moment on Court Banque Nationale when Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who was being beaten by No. 11 seed Caroline Wozniacki, had supporter Martina Hingis frantically gesturing from the stands to urge her to challenge one particular call. Hantuchova just threw up her hands and said, "I can't do that, remember?"

In the stands, you had to pay careful attention if you even wanted to keep up with the score, which made scores of people get off their smart phones and pay careful attention. It was old-school, in the best way.

During the day Tuesday, with the ticketing system down, they couldn't sell tickets to the walk-up crowd. Some waited in line about 40 minutes as organizers were deciding what to do, and they ended up getting in for free.

As well, the crowds on Tuesday and Wednesday evening could not have their tickets scanned, so the ushers at the gate had to check all tickets individually to make sure they were indeed for the correct session. That resulted in delays.

Wednesday, after the power did come back about 3 a.m., the site was still running on the generators. We're told the plan was to finish the night session and then ease back into the main power source, which involved resetting a lot of equipment. But just as the Serena Williams match against Samantha Stosur was starting, the lights went out again as one of the generators blew. This shortage didn't last long, though.

The main building had to be shuttered both Tuesday and Wednesday evening. It's the hub of the event, housing Tennis Canada's offices, the players' lounge, the press conference room, the dining facilities for the volunteers, media and the VIP restaurants and countless other key services. The site's indoor tennis facility is transformed for the duration of the tournament but it's a massive windowless space, which made it completely pitch black during the power outages and forced officials to evacuate for safety's sake.

All that food was essentially wasted, and sponsors will surely be demanding make-goods for the failure to provide those services. The corporate loges also couldn't provide their guests with food.

Most tragically, the refrigerators at the concession stands, we were told by one employee, could only keep the beer cold for three hours. (Oh yes, and the other liquid beverages as well). At $8 for a can of regular Stella Artois, you certainly have every right to demand that your beer not be tepid.

Even Wednesday evening during the brief second power outage, the sight of the employees struggling to make change from a $20 bill without having the cash register computer calculating it for them automatically was a somewhat amusing sight.

The large promenade where all sorts tennis gear is available for sale also couldn't operate as usual; they could accept cash, but not credit cards, and so there was a big revenue loss. Luckily, the annual ladies' day, when women from the various interclub leagues get a special rate on tickets to attend the tournament, was Wednesday this year instead of the usual Tuesday. The pop-up stores are particularly busy on ladies' day.

Several longtime Rogers Cup veterans we spoke to, Montreal tennis faithful who have been coming to the tournament for decades as ballkids, local practice partners, later as volunteers and spectators, said they'd never experienced anything like it.

"It happened once, a long time ago, but it didn't last more than half an hour. We figured out pretty quickly that someone just had hit the wrong button," tournament director Lapierre told the media. "But never like this, no. I hope no one ever experiences this. I wish this on no one."

On the plus side of the ledger, Lapierre said the tournament had already balanced its budget by Monday, and already knew it would surpass its previous attendance women's tournament record of approximately 175,000 for the week largely because of the buzz created by Bouchard's success over the first part of the season.

"We expected (Tuesday) would be an historic day. We had our countrywoman coming back home as a favorite of one of the greatest tournaments in the world. So many unlucky things happened that spoiled it all," Lapierre said. "It will be an historic day, but not for the right reasons. All of this spoiled the celebration."