Luker’s efforts pay off with most improved award

Gary Luker of Stoney Creek is Tennis Canada’s recipient of Most Improved player as the organization announced its 2011 Excellence Awards in the junior and wheelchair categories.

Eugenie Bouchard (Westmount, Que.) and Filip Peliwo (Vancouver) have been named Most Outstanding Junior Female and Male for the second consecutive year, while Joel Dembe (Toronto) has been named Wheelchair Tennis Athlete of the Year.

Luker’s season culminated with a victory at the Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championships in the quad division, an improvement on his 2010 runner-up result and his first national crown. He also was a finalist in doubles alongside Bert Blokker.

Luker, 35, achieved career-best ITF rankings, reaching No. 21 in singles and No. 29 in doubles. He won two doubles titles, both with Adrian Dieleman, at the Midwest Championships in Grand Rapids and the Birmingham in Mississauga, where he also was a singles finalist.

Among his other results are semifinal finishes in both singles and doubles at the PTR Championships in Hilton Head, and doubles runner-up and singles semifinalist at the Tennis Canada International Championship in Montreal.

In 2011, Bouchard was one of the best under-18 competitors in the world, reaching a high of No. 4 on the ITF junior rankings. She began the year by reaching the Australian Open junior girls’ semifinal, and soon after picked up her first professional title at the $25,000 Burnie Challenger. At Junior Wimbledon, she reached the quarter-finals and also won the doubles crown with American partner Grace Min for her first Slam title. She also lifted the trophy at the Copa Gerdau in Brazil, a Grade A tournament, and at the Grade 1 Canadian Open Junior Championships in Repentigny, Quebec. In addition, she reached the final of the Yucatan Cup in Mexico and the semifinals of the prestigious Orange Bowl in Florida. Beyond Wimbledon, she also captured two Grade 1 doubles titles – at the Loy Yang Traralgon International with Monica Puig of Puerto Rico and the Banana Bowl with Russia’s Irina Khromacheva. On the pro circuit, Bouchard also nabbed a $10K title in Sibenik, Croatia, and reached the quarter-finals of the $50K Tevlin Challenger in Toronto. In April, she claimed her first Fed Cup victory in Canada’s tie against Slovenia and in July, she won her first WTA main draw match at Washington.

Peliwo’s greatest result in 2011 came at the end of the year when he advanced to the semifinals of the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Florida, a Grade A event. He also reached the semifinals of the Pan American ITF Championships in Tulsa, and captured the doubles crown with fellow Canadian Samuel Monette. At the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup, Peliwo advanced to the quarter-finals in both singles and doubles (with Belgium’s Kimmer Coppejans). Also in doubles, he reached the semifinals of the Mitsubishi-Lancer International Junior Championships in the Philippines. His top junior Slam result was the round of 16 at the US Open. He also captured his first professional win at the $15K Mississauga Futures in July and proceeded to advance to the quarter-finals. At the $15K event in Markham, he reached the singles quarter-finals and doubles semifinals with Monette.

Dembe was not only a success in the wheelchair tennis world, but the Canadian sports world as a whole as he was named Men’s Athlete of the Year by the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association. He captured his maiden Birmingham National Wheelchair Tennis Championship in October, winning in both singles and doubles (with Philippe Bedard). In June and July, he went on a great run with dual singles and doubles titles at both the Sacramento Capitals event in California (doubles crown with Bedard) and the Pocomo Wheelchair Tennis Classic in Coquitlam, BC (doubles with Corey Blatchford). He also won the Puerto Rico Open in March, reached two other finals, and captured the doubles crown at the Invitation Kiewitt. In November, he represented Canada at the Parapan Am Games in Guadalajara, where he and Bedard advanced to the doubles quarter-finals.

The Tennis Canada Excellence Awards were introduced in 1982 and are presented annually to the country’s top tennis players, coaches, officials, communities and administrators in recognition of outstanding contributions made to Canadian tennis.