Johannesburg - The Soweto Open tennis tournament at the enshrined Arthur Ashe Centre in Jabavu has a bright future - and is gaining in momentum by the year.
This is the view of South African Tennis Associaition CEO Ian Smith, who said even the inclement weather bogey had not prevented this year's ATP and WTA Challenger tournament from being a highly successful event - with combined prize money for the men and women in the vicinity of R1,4-million and sponsorship of R8-million from the Johannesburg City Council to stage the event.
Although the three-year contract with the Johannesburg Council has now been completed, Smith is confident it will be renewed for 2012 - "and probably even longer".
"I believe the Council's enterprise in supporting the tournament has been well rewarded, in that it has not only opened a vital channel for the black community to play an increasingly prominent part in South African tennis, but also giving all South African players the opportunity of enhancing their status on the international tennis map.
"The South African men have already made their mark in the tournament, with Rik de Voest reaching the 2009 and 2011 finals and Izak van der Merwe becoming the first South African to win the tournament this year after being beaten in last year's final."
In the process, Van der Merwe has this week secured a career-best 134th world ranking while earning R114 000 in prize money and De Voest has improved his world ranking markedly from the 180's to the mid-150's.
Smith also pointed out that after the original Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre had been vandalised and basically decimated in the 1980's and 1990's, Soweto now boasted what is probably the best-equipped tennis complex in South Africa, with the resurrected venue boasting 16 well-kept courts, a Centre Court Stadium that can cater for a large crowd and a club house with amenities that have gained praise from the overseas players.
"Vitally too, it has provided a venue for development among young black players on their doorstep - and the number who are making use of the facility is growing in leaps and bounds," said Smith.