Number of club players a major concern in SA tennis

2008-02-22 00:00

THE Kershaw Park-based Braaiketts men’s tennis team did well to reach the final of the SA Airways National Club Championships in East London last week.

Gareth Greenwood, Boyd Michau and Chris Folker had things pretty much their own way until they met the Spier club from Stellenbosch.

Greenwood and Michau lost their singles matches to Ruan Roelofse and Robert Blair, the 2-0 score earning the Stellenbosch men the title over the KZN champs. The SA women’s champs are Free State University, who beat Camps Bay 2-0 in their showdown.

Yet possibly more important than the club champs were the thoughts of SA Tennis Association (Sata) president Johan Koorts, on where the game is going at this level.

It should be remembered that SA tennis went backwards for over a decade under administrators who left a lot to be desired. The new regime, however, appear to have the game at heart.

Speaking exclusively to The Witness, Koorts said the challenges were many and varied.

“Without the clubs, there is no tennis,” said Koorts.

A factor of great concern — and a problem with many sports at club level — is the average age of players in tennis clubs around the country.

“For tennis to thrive again at club level, the average age of players must come down,” Koorts said. “At the moment, 80% of club players nationally are 35 or older,” he said. “New club membership is stagnating and dwindling, as there is no fresh blood coming in.

It is important to give the clubs goals at provincial level,” Koorts added. “The SAA National Club Championships has played a role in raising the standard in club tennis leagues throughout our provinces, as there is the goal of qualifying,” Koorts said.

“In one year there has been a rise in the quality of tennis seen at National Club Champs, and I believe this is due to the age of the players coming down.

“The culture of club tennis is improving and the Sata decision that all juniors must be members of a club in order to qualify for a national ranking is also having an effect.”

Indeed, the more tennis at senior level, the more chance youngsters are going to graduate from junior level and be encouraged to continue playing the game.

The tournament was extremely well organised and for this the sponsors and the organisers deserve credit, while the fact that the SA Airways Tennis Open was held at the same venue, and at the same time as Club Champs, gave the amateurs a great chance to watch quality professional tennis.

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