Cape Town - In a year-end review of South African tennis and
looking towards reviving the game in the country to its former notable heights,
Tennis South Africa CEO Richard Glover has likened the progress in 2018 to
negotiating the first 10km in a gruelling marathon.
"When all is said and done I am satisfied encouraging
progress has been made," assessed the TSA CEO after the second year of his
However, few will need reminding that the iconic marathon
race, designated in memory of Pheidippides' fabled run from Marathon to Athens
to spread news of a victory in the battle-torn town, stretches to a distances
of 42.195km - and that by mathematical calculations requires a figurative
32.195km amount of work to be done before South Africa might again win the
monumental men's Davis Cup and women's Fed Cup events and the currently
non-existent South African Open can again be regarded as the fifth most
important tournament on the planet as it was in the 1970s.
At the top level, therefore, the job has hardly got off the
ground, although Glover points out that the individual achievements of current
world sixth-ranked singles player, Kevin Anderson, and world-class doubles
exponent Raven Klaasen and to a lesser extent the up-and-coming Lloyd Harris,
have helped generate interest in tennis in the country.
But against this, Anderson, who now lives in the United
States and alone could have made a world of difference, has had no direct
contact with South African tennis in the seven years in which he has boycotted
playing in the Davis Cup, while the staging of what should be a permanently
entrenched South African Open remains no more than a mirage after a similar
absence of seven years.
The recently completed three-tier Futures Opens in
Stellenbosch are assuredly better than nothing, but can realistically be rated
in soccer terminology in the "sixth division" of world
tournaments behind the Grand Slams in the top bracket, followed by Masters 1
000 events; then in third place ATP 500 tournaments; ATP 250 events
and the ATP Challengers - with the Futures tournaments reserved mainly
for players ranked 400 and lower in the world
Finance is the perennial bogey that it is said to have kept
South Africa staging world class tennis tournaments for so long. And achieving
the objective certainly requires a hefty amount of cash. But it is something of
a conundrum that a sport like golf manages to overcome the monetary hurdle and
can attract some of the world's best players to South Africa on a regular
Where Glover rightly detects improvements in South African
tennis is at grass roots level, with an 8% increase in junior tournaments in
the country in 2018; the junior nationals attracting the largest field in a
decade; a 12% increase in registered coaches and significantly, the ITF
awarding South Africa one of the top five A Grade junior events in 2019.
The CEO remains hopeful of organising a major tournament
featuring some of the best players in the world in 2019, even if it is not part
of the official ATP or WTA schedules, spreading tennis interest and
participation to outlying areas and erecting a number of clay courts to assist
in the various development programs.
But like Glover himself admits, running a tennis marathon is
no easy undertaking - even in a country with favourable weather conditions and
a great many more courts than a myriad of countries who are doing a lot better
with a lot less.