SA tennis on the rise after doldrums

2008-02-21 00:00

SOUTH African tennis went through the doldrums in the nineties and beyond. However, the new broom that is SA Tennis Association chairman Johan Koorts and CEO Ian Smith is making significant progress in sweeping away the old for a cleaner, brighter look that suggests promise for the future.

Smith said Sata is confident that its ongoing negotiations with men’s pro tennis governing body the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) will result in a full ATP Tour event in the country in the near future.

“If the ATP do give us the go-ahead, we will have an ATP Tour event next year,” said Smith.

While the SA Airways Tennis Open is currently a Challenger event — the sequence is Futures tournaments, Challengers and then the top ATP tourneys — sponsors have indicated a willingness to put up the increased prize money that the top-tier competition requires, Smith said.

“The aim of hosting these events is so that our South African players can gain direct entry to these tournaments,” he said.

Smith added that more Futures and Challengers tournaments are needed, building up to the country’s flagship SAA Open, which has a secured sponsorship for three years.

Koorts said that twinning the current Super Seven junior tournaments with senior events — as in the old Sunshine Tour — alongside them, is the direction planned.

“At the moment we have got four senior events to go with the juniors and Sata is also talking to the African tennis governing body to get more events off the ground,” said Koorts.

“We concentrated initially on men’s tennis because of the SAA sponsorship and now it’s a case of focusing in the same way on the women’s game and the target is a similar women’s event,” Koorts said.

“It’s a long process, though, very difficult, and it all depends on sponsor buy-in.”

Koorts and Smith said the problem is that there are a number of countries and cities clamouring for ATP and WTA (women’s pro tennis governing body the World Tennis Association) events, so the competition is fierce.

However, Smith said that there is a desire of these bodies to stage events in Africa in order to encompass the concept of tennis being a game for all.

“We have emphasised to the ATP that it’s about time we got a big tournament back on the African continent,” Smith said. “With high-profile sponsors in SAA and [East London-based] Mercedes Benz South Africa on board, there are other significant sponsors who are showing interest in SA tennis.”

And in what was a marked feature of the SAA Tennis Open in East London, every single overseas player spoken to was unanimous in praising the “outstanding” organisation, “terrific” weather and “friendly” people, and all expressed a desire to return to the country, be it for tennis or a holiday.

That fact alone suggests SA tennis is on the up.

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