Cape Town - It conjures up the scary scenario after another awesome
Australian Open, with a record 726 000 spectators and R500 million in prize money
highlighting the tournament at Melbourne Park, that the gap with a
phantom South African Open has seemingly continued to increase.
But the truth of the matter is that it is worse
The one-time popular, acclaimed and prestigious South
African Open no longer exists - and but for a brief, encouraging three-year
reprieve at the Montecasino Entertainment Centre from 2010 to 2012, has either
limped along for 30 years or not taken place at all.
And yet 40 years ago the situation between the two national
tennis tournaments was to a great degree reversed, to the point where a
vibrant South African Open at Doornfontein's Ellis Park Stadium in
Johannesburg, master-minded under the astute direction of promoter Owen
Williams, aroused such heady ambitions as usurping the
Australian Open's Grand Slam status.
Today, this very suggestion is almost laughable and
fictional in nature - and, worse still, it is bathed in a bitter
irony that influenced the situation.
A blueprint to revive South African tennis compiled by
Durban-born Craig Tiley to restore the halcyon levels of the 1960s and 1970s
was rejected as "too ambitious" and not financially viable by the
South African Tennis Association in 2003.
The outcome was that Tiley, who as tournament director
has been the driving influence behind the meteoric rise and success of the
Australian Open for 11 years, stepped down from his position as South African
Davis Cup captain and pursued his career in the United States initially
and then Australia.
At the same time, the once-booming, but now discontinued
South African Open is not going anywhere in spite of suggestions that TSA should
run the event on a modest basis to maintain what should be an indelible
This week in correspondence from Melbourne, Tiley, who is
now also CEO of Tennis Australia, gave unequivocal support to this approach,
proclaiming "you've got to start somewhere."
"I am aware of the difficulties that exist, particularly
in securing much-needed financial backing," he added, "but
obstacles are there to overcome and its sad to see South African tennis, for
which I still have a strong empathy, falling behind when the sport is booming
"To start the
process," said Tiley, who received his education at the Bryanston High
School in Johannesburg, "it is imperative for South Africa to stage a
world class event that attracts top players and interest around the
high-profiled event drives wider interest," says Tiley. "In
this way the support will mushroom and grow.
"What is needed is
government and private enterprise support," added Tiley,
"But the message must be
brought home that the long-term benefits more than justify any investment, with
the Australian Open benefiting the state of Victoria alone to an annual amount
of R3 billion."