Williams sisters visit Soweto
Venus & Serena Williams (Gallo Images)
Soweto - Scores of starry-eyed teens in oversized sports kit on Saturday queued patiently for their turn to play tennis with US champions Serena and Venus Williams in South Africa's famous Soweto township.
Five to a side, two groups at a time, the young hopefuls in white T-shirts and red caps played their best shots, determined to catch the attention of the world's greatest tennis sisters.
"Move your feet!" cried Serena Williams as the youngsters neatly returned balls over the net at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre, named after the first black American tennis player ever to win a Grand Slam.
Other returns went wide prompting frustrated looks on the young players' faces.
"Remember to always keep your eyes on the ball," Serena advised.
Their tennis heroes' visit is not lost on the aspiring tennis players.
"It was exciting and scary at the same time," said 12-year-old Mmabatho Makutu after her session.
"I learnt a lot, like volley, forehand, backhand and smashes."
The Williams sisters have travelled to South Africa to promote the sport among Africans, especially girls, after a similar visit to Nigeria earlier this week.
Organisers of the "Breaking the Mould" tour hope to inspire girls to achieve their dreams.
"Having the opportunity to show these women you can break the mould... can really create champions," Serena explained earlier during a news conference.
"Here at the courts they call me 'Little Serena', because I have what it takes to be her," said Mmabatho Makgale, 12, after playing on the star's side in a mini-doubles match against Venus's team, which Serena's team won.
Mmabatho decided she wanted to become a professional player after she saw one of Serena's matches as a six-year-old on television.
"I just knew that this was what I wanted to do," she said.
Others who didn't take part were happy to watch from the sidelines.
"I'm a little shy," said Lulu Dwanya, eight, her head swamped by a white cap which Venus Williams signed for her.
Tennis in South Africa is facing troubled times.
This year's South African Open and Soweto Open were both cancelled because of a lack of sponsors, and tennis remains the sport of the affluent.
Few people can afford lessons for their children and live close to decent facilities.
"This is really going to inspire our kids, especially our girls," Tennis South Africa president Bongani Zondi told journalists.
The national association runs development programmes in disadvantaged communities in seven urban hubs across the country.
"Those of us coming from townships know that there are too many challenges," said Zondi.
"Especially girls face more challenges than boys."