The legacy! The advantage! A volley of Sowetan aces!

2011-12-03 20:02

Arthur Ashe’s dream revived by funding from the City of Johannesburg three years ago

The sound of racquets hitting balls grabs your attention the moment you enter Soweto’s Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre.

The first aspiring player we bump into is Mmabatho Makgale (11), from central Jabavu.

Mmabatho and her younger brother Musa are among 500 youngsters who attend this development programme daily.

The siblings collect tennis balls in the office and, before you know it, they are going through their paces on the court.

Mmabatho says: “I take things seriously. I’m the next Serena Williams. You have to believe me.”

Arthur Ashe’s dream of producing a tennis champion from Soweto was revived three years ago when the centre was reopened with funding provided by the City of Johannesburg and the National Lotteries Board.

The tennis legend provided initial financial backing for the first project 34 years ago, which was made up of three courts, but a lack of interest from the community caused the centre to eventually became a white elephant.

Today, the centre has 16 courts and serves as a permanent legacy to the first black man to win Wimbledon and reach No 1 in the world.

Coach Oupa Nthuping said that apart from coaching they look after the welfare of the players, which includes ensuring they have full kits.

“You have to love the sport and have a good heart. Most of our players are from disadvantaged families. Parents can’t afford the uniform.

“They struggle to make ends meet and as a result we ensure that when they attend competitions they look presentable,” said Nthuping.

He said in the past three years they have produced Katlego Maseko (12), who is in the SA top-100.

“When you run development programmes you don’t look for instant results because that can put kids under too much pressure.

“They have to start by enjoying the game and gradually be introduced to the competitive game,” said Nthuping.

But the centre has already produced players who compete at national tournaments where partici-pants are ranked.

The players are divided into three groups – red (beginners), orange (level 2) and green (level 3).

“We’re producing very competitive youngsters who are active throughout the season. This December alone they will be taking part in two tournaments.

“Many promising juniors are starting to prove themselves and one day we will have our own Serena,” Nthuping said. “Our job is to try out boys and girls to see how keen they are and how well they can co-ordinate their movements.

“It is totally new to some. They have never touched a tennis racquet before and they have no idea what the game is about,” he added.

But the enthusiasm for the sport has been “infectious”.

“Parents are also excited. The success we’ve had in the past few years is obviously inspiring more
and more children to join the group.

“The response from schools has also been very positive. To take this grassroots programme to another township would be a huge achievement.

“I would love to see more and more schools involved in the programme,” added Nthuping, himself a keen former tennis player.

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