Cape Town - He describes himself now as a "world tennis
citizen" in view of his varied international commitments, former Davis Cup
captain John-Laffnie de Jager is back in South Africa with the priority of
helping the game locally to achieve its former lofty status.
De Jager is the permanent travelling coach of promising 22-year-old
Ajla Tomljanovic, the Croatian-born, Australian-based 106th world-ranked women’s
player; coach of the Springfield Lasers in the popular USA World Team Tennis
event and coach in the year-end International Professional League of the Dubai
Royals - who last year included Roger Federer, Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych and
Ana Ivanovic in its ranks.
But it is his ongoing JL Academy and Matchpoint Foundation,
which operates from facilities at the Midstream College in Pretoria, that
remains dear to his heart as he attempts to unearth world-class talent to
follow in the likes of Cliff Drysdale, Johan Kriek, Kevin Curren, Wayne
Ferreira, Amanda Coetzer and Kevin Anderson in most recent times.
"It is frustrating and quite sad that the well of
talent that produced world-class players continually going back as far as the
1930s has seemingly dried up in the last decade," says De Jager.
However, the former Davis Cup captain is convinced that the
potential talent to reach a top level exists in abundance in South Africa and
will blossom with the right level of coaching and international exposure.
"Without this exposure," he says,” the development
of South African youngsters tends to come up against a brick wall at the most important
stage of their development.
"In my time as a player," he added, "the
South African Tennis Association ran what was known as a Super Squad made up of
10 of the most promising players in the country, with seven of the 10 reaching
a world ranking in the top 100 and higher.
"The players were exposed to international conditions
and standards round the world and that I believe is what is lacking in our
make-up right now."
He says his activities at the Midstream College are a means
of helping fill the void, but it remains a difficult undertaking at private
level, although he is heartened by the fact that promising players from his
academy were successful in the under-10, under-12 and under-14 events at the recent South African Junior
De Jager says the Matchpoint Foundation, which is designed
to assist promising young players, has received encouraging support from top
South African players and personalities like Wayne and Ellis Ferreira, South
African-born Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, Raven Klaasen,
Amanda Coetzer, Ilana Kloss and Christo van Rensburg.
De Jager will remain in South Africa during May before resuming
his activities as a "world tennis citizen" when the now-injured Tomljanovic returns to the
WTA circuit in June.
At the same time, six permanent coaches will continue with
the search for elusive top level talent at the JL Academy.