For some, the first memory of playing sports remains burned in the mind for life. For others, that first memory is less defined, but no less present.

For Tony Bardsley, tennis was always a deeply rooted part of his life—it was always there, even if he doesn’t remember when he first started.

“I have a picture at home that shows me holding a racket. I was so young the racket was bigger than me,” he laughs.

Tennis was just a part of growing up in the Bardsley household. His father, Jim, a BC Sports Hall of Famer himself, was one of his first coaches and an instructor at local Vancouver courts. At age eleven, Tony began helping him instruct. His mother, Jean, a UBC Sports Hall of Famer, also played and so did his brother Bob, who often teamed with Tony as doubles partners.

This upbringing was the foundation for Canada’s top professional player at home and abroad for nearly a decade through the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s and BC’s top player for nearly fifteen years.

After graduating from Lord Byng High School, Bardsley spent two years refining his game at Diablo Valley junior college in California, before returning north to UBC in 1965, where he played as a member of the national tennis team. By 1967, he was the number one ranked player in the province.

Later that year Bardsley decided to broaden his tennis horizons by going east and competing in Ontario and the eastern US. Despite many strong showings, by year’s end he wasn’t ranked. That would change in 1968, when a finals berth in the Canadian Closed championships suddenly jumped him to number two in Canada. From this point until 1975, Bardsley never ranked out of the top four singles players in Canada while traveling the world competing in top professional tournaments, including Wimbledon and the French Open.

His rise was timely. In the early 1970s, tennis was fast becoming one of North America’s most popular spectator sports thanks in large part to television coverage that zapped interesting racket rivals like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Bjorn Borg into living rooms across the globe. Bardsley played many of the big names and defeated a number of players ranked in the world’s top fifty.

Canada may have lacked a McEnroe, but Bardsley’s imposing height, bushy mane of hair, and aggressive style made him popular with Canadian fans. His play inspired many Canucks to take up the game including a young Grant Connell, perhaps the greatest tennis player this country has ever produced.

His rise culminated in 1975, winning the Canadian singles championship and earning a number one ranking in Canada and #220 in the world. At the same time, he was one of the top doubles players in Canada, winning the Canadian doubles championship in 1974, 1975, and 1977.

Bardsley was a mainstay on Canada’s Davis Cup team for six years, winning seven of fifteen matches always facing the toughest singles player from some of the top tennis nations in the world.

In the last five years of his competitive career, he focused on tournaments in the Pacific Northwest earning the number one ranking in the region in 1977. Retiring at age 36, he won the BC Nike Grand Prix tennis circuit and earned the number one ranking in BC for the year—one last scorching ace for the record books.

He later served as head tennis professional at Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club from 1978-1990 and volunteer director of tournament operations for the ITF Federation Cup held in West Vancouver in 1987. He also volunteered many hours on Tennis BC’s board of directors in charge of coaching certification, all the time working for the improvement of tennis in this province.

For his many years of dedication on the court and off, in 2005 Tennis Canada awarded Bardsley with its prestigious Distinguished Service Award.

So as another Bardsley enters one of this province’s sports halls of fame, it should come as no surprise. They always associated sport with family, and likewise, their family will be forever remembered for sport.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.