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
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
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.