SA to revamp Soweto Open

2012-10-26 18:11

Johannesburg - Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula believes the revived Soweto Open will be bigger and better than before and will leave a lasting impact in the community.

The tournament, which attracted only a few spectators, was dropped from the calendar in 2012 due to a lack of funding.

It will be played again at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in April 2013 after a R5 million one-year sponsorship deal was signed between Tennis South Africa (TSA) and the Department of Sport and Recreation on Friday.

Mbalula believed the tournament would raise the standard of tennis in the country.

"The dream of former tennis legend Arthur Ashe continues as the Soweto open returns to Jabavu," Mbalula said.

"It is our belief that the Soweto Open will attract more spectators than ever before and will continue to expose many young South Africans, developing players and emerging professionals from disadvantaged and neglected communities."

Mbalula said the sports ministry hoped to provide funding again after next year and would also assist TSA in finding further sponsorships.

"This deal should continue year after year," Mbalula said.

"Government will come to the party and we call upon sponsors in the private sector to come work with us.

"We need to get more money and make the tournament lucrative and even put it on TV."

Bongani Zondi, the president of TSA, said they were thankful to the government for recognising the importance of the tournament.

"The minister has showed he supports all sporting codes and wants to develop sports generally in the country," Zondi said.

"We are happy because this will give us the opportunity to develop more children in the area.

"In terms of sustainability, we have to do our bit, go out and get sponsors. It's not easy but it has to be done.

"The minister has paved the way and we hope the private sector will come on board as well."

Since its inception in 2009, the tournament has attracted 128 players from 38 countries and, according to TSA, negotiations for the prize money for next year's event was at an advanced stage with the the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

A lucrative prize purse for the tournament could attract big-name players, including the country's top ranked Kevin Anderson, who is rated among the top 40 players in the world.

Anderson, who made himself unavailable for the Davis Cup World Group playoff against Canada in September, won the SA Open title in 2011, and Zondi said he would receive an invite for the Soweto event, along with other top players in the country.

"We will always invite all our players and if he wants to come he is welcome," Zondi said.

"Anderson is where he is because of the SA Open. These tournaments also help players get their points for their ranking.

"If they want to get more points, they will come. It's not a big tournament, but it helps them get points."

Izak van der Merwe currently holds the Soweto Open title after beating fellow South African Rik de Voest in the final of the 2011 tournament.