SA tennis star’s grit pays off

2011-11-18 00:00

FROM humble beginnings in Harrismith, to Florida, United States and the competitive hustle and bustle of the women’s professional tennis circuit. South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers has come a long way in establishing herself as a household name.

And as she told The Witness, the end is not in sight.

Scheepers was recently in Pietermaritzburg catching up on some rest and recuperation, mixed with light training with her coach Roger Anderson, before embarking on an intensive training regime in Florida ahead of the first grand slam tournament of 2012, the Australian Open in January.

Her love for tennis was instilled in her from an early age.

“I grew up in a tennis-loving family. My mom was a provincial tennis player for the former Transvaal. From about the age of four or five I remember my parents playing a lot of social tennis on the weekends.

“I gravitated into tennis rather than being forced into it. Because of that I really love the game and was top of most of the age divisions I played in,” said Scheepers.

Scheepers grew up admiring tennis great Steffi Graff who dominated woman’s tennis for close on 20 years. Then Scheepers naturally admired Amanda Coetzer, who was ranked the third best player in the world in 1997.

Scheepers is currently ranked number 37 in the world, which was her goal at the beginning of the year. In order to achieve this, she had to make improvements to her game, which she achieved with the help of Anderson, who is a Pietermaritzburg resident.

“Women’s tennis has become very physical. It’s closing the gap quite rapidly­ between it and the men’s game. Courts have become a lot slower and balls have become heavier. Because of this players have had to become much fitter. This means that players really have to work hard to win points in matches.

“Also, top players can’t cruise through the preliminary rounds of a tournament. There is no such thing as an easy game today,” said Anderson.

The main improvements to Scheepers’s game is to her serve and to her forehand. Anderson also focuses a lot on her fitness.

And this showed. At the 2011 Guangzhou International Women’s Open, which Scheepers won, four out her five matches lasted over three hours, which is unusual in the women’s game.

Scheepers feels that she has the game to be a top-20 player, which is an ambition she hopes to achieve by the end of 2012.

However, this will be difficult without a sponsor.

Scheepers said that this is an ongoing problem in South Africa as sponsors favour rugby, cricket and soccer ahead of tennis.

“South Africa has always been recognised­ as having talented juniors­, yet most of them get lost in the system and don’t reach their full potential. South African players also mature a lot later than the Russian and American players do because there are not a lot of high-profile tournaments here.

“The future of South African tennis is bright, provided it resolves the funding issue and it gets more high- profile tournaments in the country,” said Scheepers.

And it may be as simple as sponsors changing mindsets. The appeal of rugby, cricket and soccer is that success is immediate, whereas tennis requires a long-term investment in a player who may only reach the height of his or her game after five or six years of competition.

Anderson said that this is currently the case with Scheepers who is at the top of her game, but without a sponsor.

“Scheepers started the year ranked 107 in the world. Her climb to her current ranking makes her the biggest climber of the year. Sponsors should recognise this,” said Anderson.

Anderson says the fact that Scheepers is at the top of her game is important to survive on the women’s circuit today.

“The women’s circuit is very competitive­ with the gap between Scheepers and world number five Li Na being very small. We also don’t see your dominators as we saw with Graff and Martina Navratilova. The fall of the Williams sisters, and to a lesser extent Maria Sharapova, has left the rankings wide open, with a lot of players out to claim top spot,” said Anderson.

But the Williams sisters and Sharapova are still major draw cards to grand slam tournaments.

“The better young players in the world tend to fly under the radar in grand slam tournaments because all the focus is on Serena or Sharapova. And then when the young players make it to the final, people question how she got there. But tennis would not be the same without characters like the Williams’ or Sharapova,” said Scheepers.


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