The 'talent is there' in men's tennis

2009-02-24 00:00

THE future for SA men’s tennis looks promising, but government support remains a thorny issue.

These are the feelings of non-playing captain John-Laffnie de Jager as he prepares for the Davis Cup tie against Macedonia from March 6 to 8 at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg.

De Jager said yesterday he is confident that there is talent coming through.

“Thomas Liversage is one of our up-and-coming players,” De Jager said. “He came through the U.S. College tennis programme, and there are younger guys like Hernus Pieters [who won an ITF tournament recently] and others.

“We are starting a mentoring programme with our senior players to bring the best juniors closer to our top guys. It makes a huge difference mentally to the youngsters.”

De Jager, though, voiced his concern regarding the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s (Sascoc) future approach to tennis.

SA sport’s governing body, under which all the codes fall, does not see tennis as a priority. New president Gideon Sam said he wants Sascoc to focus on the most likely medal-winning sports rather than a broad-based approach.

“Hopefully Sascoc will look at SA tennis’s potential long-term rather than short-term,” said De Jager.

Olympic Games evidence suggests that the more heavily government sports bodies support tennis, or any sport for that matter, the more likely it is that the investment will be translated into medals.

“China, for example, have already identified and are preparing kids for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games,” De Jager said. “And that is just one difference between South Africa’s approach in terms of support from their Olympic body.”

De Jager said most of SA’s top players have had to achieve overseas success on their own.

“Of our guys, [SA doubles specialist] Jeff Coetzee is probably the only one who has had financial support, others like [South Africa’s number one and two] Kevin Anderson and Rik de Voest have made it on their own,” De Jager said.

“In contrast, a guy like Andy Murray of Great Britain has six [support] guys travelling with him.”

The 21-year-old Murray, from Dunblane in Scotland, lies fourth on the world rankings whereas Anderson’s world ranking is 103.

“We have a situation this year where the SA players are not under contract to Sata [the SA Tennis Association], which was the case last year, so players are entitled to play when they wish.

“Although our players have been wonderfully committed to the Davis Cup cause, there are times when we’ll have to accept that they have ranking points to defend or want to improve their world ranking, which in the end will do this country’s tennis reputation proud,” De Jager said.

Tickets for the SA/Macedonia Davis Cup tie are available at Computicket outlets nationwide on 083 915 8000 or from Emperors Palace box office on 011 928 1213.

• Jonathan Cook will be at Emperors Palace for the Davis Cup tie.

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