Johannesburg - The Australian Open may have come and gone, but it left an indelible mark on South African tennis player Philip Henning.
The 17-year-old from Bloemfontein flew the country’s flag high when he reached the junior doubles quarter-finals.
After the premature exit of Mzansi’s top tennis stars Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen at the year’s first Grand Slam event, the teenager ensured the presence of South Africa in later rounds.
Speaking to City Press at the Irene Country Club in Centurion this week, Henning said he did not expect to reach the quarter-finals because this was only his second appearance at the Australian Open. He was disappointed after being eliminated in the first round of the tournament last year. However, his progress has made this a year to remember.
“Playing last year gave me the confidence to play again. I did better than I expected this time around and surprised myself. It was quite overwhelming,” he said.
“I got excited when I won my first match and went through to the second round. It didn’t feel real when I eventually lost to the guy who later won the tournament.”
Having failed to make the final cut of the main draw, Henning was forced to compete in the qualifying rounds. He won two qualifying rounds and was one of eight players to qualify for the main draw proper.
Henning, who is part of South Africa’s Davis Cup team, defeated UK player George Loffhagen 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 in the opening round.
He then beat ninth seed and world number eight junior ranked player Thiago Seyboth Wild of Brazil 6-4,
6-4 in the second round.
He lost 6-4, 1-6, 4-6 to US teenager Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr. Korda beat Chun Hsin Tseng in the final.
However, Henning went a step further and reached the doubles quarter-finals with partner Andrew Paulson of the Czech Republic.
Henning and Paulson lost 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 5-10 to German players Rudolf Molleker and Henri Squire.
For Henning, tennis is a family affair.
“From a young age, I always wanted to play tennis. It runs in our family, actually. My uncle Gustav Fichardt and my mother, Karlien Henning, were players.
“It was my decision to play tennis. I played cricket and hockey at primary school, but I decided to focus on tennis and leave the other sports when I got to high school.”
Playing sport while in matric can be demanding, but Henning finds a way to juggle his sport and academic work with the help of his school.
“The school is lenient. They let me go on tour and I take my school work with me, and I have extra classes when I come back. It’s quite tough.”
He plans to join his friend and fellow tennis player Bertus Kruger in the US after matric, but is not yet sure what degree to study for.
“I think I will go into the business faculty. Tennis will be part of the process leading to professional level,” he said.
“When I’m done with matric, I want to play college tennis and get my degree. I would like to turn professional after that.”
Henning must be among the top 50 ranked players to make the cut for the French Open in May.