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The alarming slump of SA women's tennis

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Chanel Simmonds (Gallo Images)
Chanel Simmonds (Gallo Images)

Gone, for sure, are the days when South Africa boasted a conveyor belt stream of worldclass women's tennis players who included Sheila Summers, Sandra Reynolds, Rene Schuurman, Pat Pretorius, Brenda Kirk and Amanda Coetzer.

All these players were ranked among the top 10 in the world, with the elegant Reynolds and a pugnacious Schuurman reaching Grand Slam singles finals and Schuurman notably securing six Grand Slam doubles titles as well.

In contrast, while South Africa's current top women's player, Chanel Simmonds, is modestly ranked at 296, it is no less than alarming that the next best South African, Zoe Kruger, is featured as far down the ladder as 946th position. The third best South African is Warona Mdluwa in 1033th place.

And the gloomy picture is emphasised by the fact that South Africa was this year relegated to the lowest tier of the Fed Cup, Euro-Africa Group III - remembering, of course, that Pretorius and Kirk secured what is termed the "World Cup" of women's tennis trophy for this country in 1972.

Earl Grainger, rated one of South Africa's leading tennis coaches and the last captain of the South African Fed Cup team, on Tuesday bemoaned the situation, but was reluctant to go into the reasons for the decline.

"I'm out of the national picture with Tennis South Africa now," he explained, "and I do not believe it appropriate for me discussing the situation in the circumstances."

Many, however, are lamenting the general decline of South African tennis since the halcyon era of the 1970s, while commending the efforts of the ruling administration under new TSA CEO, Richard Glover, to turn the tide this year.

But pointedly the numerous crumbs of comfort emanating from initiatives at grass roots level need to be supplemented by significant success at the top echelon of the game to jump start the operation.

On the men’s side, Kevin Anderson reaching the US Open final was an exceptional achievement that, perhaps, can be categorised as a singular event that proved a rule.

And the likeable 6-foot-8 big server's success has been diluted from a national point of view to some extent by his reluctance to represent South Africa in the Davis Cup for the past six years.

Anderson's presence would again be invaluable and quite possibly decisive when South Africa face Israel in February after gaining promotion to the Euro-Africa Group One segment of the Davis Cup.

But whether Anderson participates in what could be a major breakthrough for South African tennis remains conjecture, despite optimistic proclamations that he is considering ending his self-imposed exile this time.

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