Johannesburg - Tennis SA (TSA) can learn a thing or two from Spain, which built more than 100 000 clay courts and has produced top quality players, including 11-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.
Spain has over the years produced Grand Slam champions on clay, largely because of to its massive investment in youngsters. Children as young as five are introduced to tennis on clay courts, even in small remote villages.
The nation has claimed 16 French Open championships in the past 25 years, with Nadal’s 11 triumphs, Sergi Bruguera’s two wins and one victory each for Carlos Moyá, Albert Costa and Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Bruguera conquered the Roland Garros Stadium in 1993 and 1994. He dominated the early 1990s, winning the Monte Carlo Masters in 1991 and 1993.
Moyá won the French Open in 1998 and powered through the Monte Carlo Masters to become the champion in April in the same year. Before retiring in 2010, the former Association of Tennis Professionals world number one also won the 2004 Italian Open.
Costa did not have as much success on clay as his countrymen, but he won the French Open in 2002.
Nadal, who has proved to be the cream of the crop, has played on clay since he was a four-year-old – he was being trained by his uncle Toni Nadal.
Spanish tennis analyst Joan Solsona said: “We are lucky because Spain is a sunny country. This has a big effect, the clay courts stay in good condition in the good weather. It means you can practise on them all year round because of the weather.”
According to Solsona, clay is the best surface for children to learn to play tennis on because it is easier to move on and the risk of injury is low.
Like Spain, South Africa has sunny skies for a large part of the year. It also nurtures young players who have the potential to become Grand Slam winners.
City Press asked TSA chief executive officer Richard Glover whether the association planned to adopt the Spanish clay court approach.
“I have a slightly different view. Giving our young players exposure on clay courts is important, but I believe there are two far more important factors in terms of growing future champions,” he said.
“One of them is the provision of quality coaching and accessibility to more international junior tournaments for our best junior players.”
He said the TSA had a number of projects up its sleeve, but they would take a number of years to be finalised.
“Clay courts are a key requirement for our new national tennis centre project at Stellenbosch University. This project was announced late last year and should hopefully be a reality within the next few years.”