Glimmer at the end of the tennis tunnel

2015-10-02 13:06
Tennis (File)
It may be a valuable springboard to regaining South African tennis's lofty stature of the past, but Futures tournaments of the type of the three events that will be launched at the scenic Stellenbosch University courts next month can paradoxically only provide a limited future.

Right now, South Africa remains frustratingly isolated from big-time tournament tennis in which 31 countries host 62 ATP World Tour events - in addition to the pinnacle R600 million four grand slams - and 42 countries stage 165 second tier ATP Challenger championships.

Futures tournaments, numbering 600 worldwide, are held under the aegis of the International Tennis Federation (ITF)  and are effectively the third tier of events on the professional tennis circuit, with relatively modest overall prize money between R200 000 and R400 000 each and a limited number of world ranking points on offer attracting few players from the top 200.

Yet in the 1970s South Africa joined a handful of countries who have won the premier Davis Cup (men) and Fed Cup (women) international team competitions and the South African Open was widely considered at one stage to be the fifth most prestigious tournament in world tennis - rating only behind the four grand slams.

Tennis South Africa officials lament there are no funds to keep pace with the international growth of the sport in which ITF affiliate nations now number over 200 and rival soccer's Fifa in popularity.

Yet with countries like Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Thailand able to stage ATP Challenger tournaments, one would imagine it would not be  beyond the means of South Africa. And in Africa, for example, Morocco are able to stage two Challenger events annually.

Signs of a tennis renaissance in South Africa emerged five years ago with the South African Open successfully reinstated on the ATP World Tour circuit after two decades in limbo, followed by the progressive innovation of launching the Soweto Open as a Challenger tournament.

Both have ironically since disappeared into oblivion amid a lack of dynamic direction and enterprising leadership for what remains potentially a vast tennis audience in a country with a great deal of potential talent and the best facilities in Africa.

The South African Open no longer exists - even in a more modest guise - and South Africa needed to ward off the humbling prospect of relegation to the fourth tier of the Davis Cup this year.

Future tournaments, therefore, might be the start of something big materialising - but if there is light at the end of the tunnel, right now it is only a glimmer.

Read more on:    sy lerman  |  tennis

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