Amanda Coetzer, the Little Assassin

As they say, all good things must come to an end! And that’s where Amanda Coetzer finds herself after a decade and a half in the glare of the sporting media’s spotlight.
In a statement sent to all media houses towards the end of May, Amanda said has spoken her final public words: “You will all know by now that at the end of last year I got married, and am very happily settling into my new way of life, so to speak.
“For 15 years as a professional I gave my all to the game, and proudly represented South Africa each and every time I walked onto court.
“As a junior working myself into the professional ranks, tennis dominated everything I did. For most of my life, I had no real life, so to say, and was totally committed to being the very best player I could be.
“This was a major sacrifice. My social and private life was different to everyone else around me. I lived tennis, slept tennis, ate tennis.

“I had my ups and I had my downs, and when I look back at my career, I can confidently say that I enjoyed my chosen career as a pro, and despite the sacrifices, it was well worth it,” continued Amanda.
“Now that I am retired, I have decided to live the personal life I never really had. I have decided to shy away from the media attention – for 15 years the media owned me and I gave them all the co-operation they required.
“Now I need the space, I need the privacy and I need the respect that I can live a personal life out of the public’s eye. I hope you understand where I am coming from.
“I hope you accept the fact that this tournament will be the only tennis and sporting project I officially associate myself with. I hope you will allow me, especially the media, to get on with my personal life.”
In a significant gesture to gsport, Amanda decided to agree to answer gsport’s questions for this interview as her final words to the world about her life as a tennis professional.
Traveling the world to play the game of her choice, she readily acknowledges that being an ambassador was a great honour. In that time, this proud South African has given back to the game that she loves.
Just recently, Bloemfontein played host to the 10th Amanda Coetzer Challenge, a tournament which helps to develop female tennis stars, at the junior level.
gsport is honoured to publish these finals words from one of South Africa’s favourite sporting stars, and wishes her every happiness in the days that lie ahead. 

Whenever people talk about Amanda Coetzer, they always mention that memorable win over Steffi Graf in 1997. What was that like to achieve such a rare feat, at a time when many struggled to beat her?

I always looked up to and enjoyed playing Steffi, so to beat her was a real bonus. What surprised me was the support I got from the crowd, each time I did beat her.

When I upset Steffi 6-0 6-0 in front of her home crowd in Berlin, which was the biggest defeat Steffi ever had in her career, I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction of the German crowd.
They gave me so much credit which made me feel good. I suppose Steffi was seen as this “invincible” machine, and for when you beat her, you gained so much respect, not only from the fans but also your fellow players – that’s a great feeling!
How did you feel about the nickname ‘Little Assassin’ given to you after that win over Graf, and it has stuck after all these years?
When I picked up the morning papers in Melbourne and saw my new nickname “Little Assassin”, I had to smile.
I always tried to ignore the fact I was short – it never really bothered me being short, but to be honest, I detested being referred to back home as “Buksie van Hoopstad”.
Now officially I had a nickname referring to something I had to accept and be real about – and it inspired me to live up to the new name.
What was it like representing South Africa at the Olympics in 1992, 1996, and 2000?
Playing for my country is by far the biggest honour, and to play in the Olympics was just fantastic.
Tennis is such an individual sport and although we play singles at the Olympics, we are part of team South Africa, we mingle with fellow sportsmen and sportswoman from other codes, and that experience was a certain highlight.
I loved to train with the hockey girls, and then go and support the athletes with other South African sportsmen and sportswomen I probably would never have met in my life, had it not been for being part of Team SA.
Who did you enjoy playing against most?
Most definitely Steffi. You were guaranteed a fight from start to finish. Steffi is so professional; she is a real work machine. I loved the pace she played at, and the way she moved me around the court.
What did you enjoy most about your tennis career?
It must have been the competition, the challenge within me to be the best I could be, the challenge of proving that, although I was small in stature, I could compete well against the best.
Also being introduced to so many different cultures through my travels, seeing so many lovely places was a part of that enjoyment.
Biggest tennis career highlights?
I think representing South Africa in the Fed Cup and at the Olympics must rank high up there. Also playing for 8 years in the Hopman Cup with Wayne Ferreira, and winning it in 2000.
My semi-final appearances in the Australian Open and French Open, my WTA awards in 1997 (Most Improved Player, Diamond ACES) and the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award in 1995, and lastly beating Graf, Davenport and Hingis when they were ranked number 1 in the world.
Most favourite international tennis venue you’ve played at?
I love Melbourne Park at the Australian Open. It has a magic vibe to the whole precedent.
But playing on the Wimbledon Centre Court was always special.
Who is currently the best female tennis player in the world?
It’s a tough one as the women’s game is very open, with older players still proving their worth, and a large crop of younger players emerging.
But for her hard work, great hands and feet and strokes, Justine Henin I think is the best all-round player out there today.
Who are your role models? 
My father Nico has always been an inspiration to me, on and off the court. He was a good provincial player, and has the ability to read the game so well, so his technical advice was worth gold.
Also he understood me, so he could confidently guide me, and was always there for me whenever.
Being a smart and successful businessman, Nico would be able to advise me on my off-court matters, which always helps.
Then I have to say golfing legend, Gary Player played a major role in my success.
I learnt from Gary that hard work pays off; I also learnt that to play as much as possible, and make the most of the talent given to me was important.
And Gary played for a long time at the top of his game. I played for 15 years on the tour, and his drive was my drive.
What inspires you?
Knowledge inspires me. I have always tried to learn and experience as much as possible.
Learning languages and broadening my overall general knowledge has always been important.
What also inspires me is the passion and total commitment that people have in what they do.
Tell us more about your development work in tennis, especially your Learn Tennis, Love Tennis program?
When I was playing the game, I sat with my PA Bruce Davidson and we came up with the idea that, if someone loved something they did, they would enjoy learning about it, and end up being successful in it.
A friend and top Tournament Director Lorna Kirsten from Cape Town had the “Learn Tennis, Love Tennis” name, and allowed me to adopt it for the Foundation I run.
There is so much to do in South Africa for tennis, it’s impossible to do everything. My Foundation mainly looks after girls at school, who play the game.
I have supported junior girls in their travels abroad, and within South Africa, (and I have) also awarded scholarships for talented players to study at tennis-orientated schools. 
It’s been 10 years since you started the Amanda Coetzer Tennis Challenge for High School girls. Are you happy with the way that project is progressing?  
It’s an unbelievable project. The tournament has inspired more top tennis schools to host similar events.
Top juniors – the future stars of tomorrow – are all attending school, so we need to create a professional environment within the school tennis structure, whereby these players have the opportunity, as a team, to play at the highest level.
Tennis is such an individual sport that, for the girls to play as a team, does wonders for their overall development.
I am real proud of the tournament my Alma Mata C & N Meisieskool Oranje put together – so professional – and they give such unconditional support to me and the project.
How can South Africa improve the state of women’s tennis?
A good and challenging question. Money is obviously the important ingredient to giving The South African Tennis Association any hope of improving the state of women’s tennis in the country.
If the funds are available, we could have big names in the women’s game playing in our backyard, which would inspire the local talent.
But you can have all the money in the world, BUT without a sound and workable strategy in place, the state of women’s tennis in our country will not improve.
It’s a challenge, especially for SATA and I suppose the government, but it’s very important to give the thousands of aspiring girl tennis players every chance and opportunity of becoming professionals.
What advice do you have for young girls keen to excel in tennis at the highest level?
I think young girls must be sure of what they want to achieve in life, and once they have made up their minds, the goals can be set.
Then its hard work, but not only hard work, smart work. So many players grind it out for hours on end, doing the wrong drills or working on the incorrect aspects of their games.
You have to be prepared to take knocks and blows in your progress. Being positive and keeping to your plan of action will pay the dividends. 
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Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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