Tenille Swartz is widely regarded as one of South Africa’s most promising young women athletes, and this reputation was confirmed when she won the annual Women’s International Squash Player Association’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ Award in December last year, displacing consecutive holder of the award, Egypt’s Raneem El Weleily, and also beating France’s highly regarded Camille Serme to the accolade.
Modesty, discipline, and a conservative nature personify this proud young South African athlete, who at 19 years is already firmly entrenched as our country’s No. 1-ranked female squash player.
gsport has no doubt that Tenille will go far in pursuit of her sporting ambitions, and valued the opportunity to discuss those aims, and other aspects of professional sportswomanship with her.
How do you spell your name?
What is your nickname?
No, it’s Tenille, people just call me Tenille (laughs)
How old are you?
19 years old.
When is your birthday?
What is your star-sign?
Die bul, what do you call it, Taurus (laughs).
Where were you born?
In Parys, in the Free State.
Do your parents still live there?
Yes, they do.
How often do you return home?
Well, I haven’t been home for three months now, but when I’m in South Africa, I try to go home every weekend.
Where are you based in South Africa?
Well, at the moment that’s a good question (laughs), I’m like all over, sometimes I’m in Parys, sometimes I’m in Pretoria, and maybe Cape Town for 2007, I’m not sure, I’m still deciding.
What languages do you speak?
English and Afrikaans, and a few words in Sotho.
Where do you spend most of your time professionally, we know that you’ve been in Holland in 2006?
Yes, that’s correct. Well, I’ve only started now, so Holland was my first base, but I want to spend a lot of my time in Cape Town (in 2007), and hopefully in England, but I’m still working on that, yeah.
What is your average working day?
OK, well, it’s mainly like, in Holland now, it was training in the morning for two hours, and then in the afternoons as well, and then in the evenings we sometimes have matches, or gym work or something, if we don’t play league.
Was that a training school that you were at?
It was a training group, with professional squash players, so yeah, it was just a made-up training group with the coach there.
Were you invited, or did you have to pay to attend?
No, I had to pay, I paid a monthly fee.
What are your sporting ambitions, you’ve already achieved stunning success in a relatively short career?
Well, my long-term goal in squash is to become world no. one, but short-term, I want to be top-twenty in the next two years.
How realistic do you believe it is to say that you want to be world no. 1?
Yes, and I also think that you’ve got to believe it to achieve it. That’s very important, if I don’t believe that I can become no.1, then it will never happen. If I believe it, and I do all the training that’s necessary, then it’s possible, definitely.
What does it mean to represent your country?
Ag, it’s a great honour, it’s just awesome. I feel very proud to represent South Africa, and it’s awesome!
What do you love most about South Africa?
It’s just the weather, it’s always sunny, I like the people, and I just love South Africa, I wouldn’t want to live in any other country.
Who are the persons you’d like to thank for their support in your career?
Definitely firstly my parents, my mom and dad, and my sisters, so my family, and also so many squash people, Squash SA, the coaches, Graeme, Richard Castle, definitely, he played a very big role as well, and mainly just all the squash people. They’re very supportive.
And also the Lottery, because they funded Squash SA, and they made a lot of things possible for us. They give a certain amount of money to Squash SA, and we get the opportunity to go to like to Women’s World Team and stuff, but I don’t have a personal sponsor.
I did sign with a company now, One World of Sport in Cape Town, and they are working now (on getting me sponsors). I have tried to get sponsors myself like a year or two ago, but people aren’t really interested to sponsor like squash people.
It’s really hard to find sponsor, because it’s expensive to go to all the tournaments, because I have to play a certain amount of tournaments in order to get a full ranking, and to tour, and coaching. So my sponsor up to now was my dad (laughs).
Is it possible to make a living as a squash player today?
Yes, I believe so. You have to get to like top 10, top fifteen, top 10 at least, to get decent money out of it, but I believe that there’s a lot of things like around squash, that you can make money from.
Do you have alternative income opportunities?
If I can do some coaching, I can make some money, but like if you play professionally, it’s really hard, you have to put in hours and stuff, so really, I’m keen just to do studies, so when I’m done with squash one day, I have something to fall back on.
What studies are you going to be pursuing?
That’s the thing, I’m still deciding (laughs). I’m a bit confused, I’d like to go into the sports-something, because I really love sports, and that’s my passion, so maybe something in the sports area, I’m not sure, I’m still looking into it.
Who are your role models, and why?
Well, in squash terms, it’s Sarah Fitzgerald, she was the world champion for a few years, and she’s just a brilliant person, she’s an awesome squash player, the best ever, I believe (laughs), and I’d like to play like her one day.
I like Oprah, I really look up to her, I’d like to do something like that one day. She’s very inspirational, and she motivates me a lot. I’d also like to do something in that line one day, when I’m done, like charity, and helping people.
gsport strives to celebrate femininity: Can femininity and sport co-exist?
Yes, definitely. I think it’s very important for a lady to be feminine. A lady must act like a lady, a woman must try to accentuate her femininity, to be well-mannered, and she should conduct herself well as a woman.
I try to conduct myself in that way as far as possible, to carry out womanly characteristics.
What life principles to you view as important to you?
Definitely discipline, and you have to have the will to do it, and a positive mind is very important, to play sport.
What is the most important advice you’ve ever received?
There’s a saying that I’ve read: ‘Many people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it.’ That’s something that motivates me a lot.
We’ve read that your computer is your favourite piece of equipment: Tell us more?
Ag, well, especially touring in other countries and stuff, it’s my main communication tool. You can find anything you want, on the Internet. It keeps me busy and occupied.
I can’t always carry books with me, but with the laptop, it’s always there. I also keep pictures of my family on it, when you’re away in other countries, you can just keep occupied with it.
What does it mean to be a healthy and sporty South African girl?
It’s very important, I’m also getting into the living healthy and eating healthy (lifestyle), that’s what makes you perform well. Even for the average person, it’s very important to live healthily and to eat well, and train, so it’s not only for sports people.
How do you maintain your fitness?
I try to vary my sports exercises, I don’t like to do the same things over and over. I try to run, and swim, do a lot of different types of running, endurance, and fitness work.
Do you follow a health diet?
No, not really. I do have a diet plan, but sometimes when I feel like something, I will eat it. But I will never go for take-aways, or like the really fattening unhealthy food. I always look after what I’m eating. I try to eat as healthy as I can.
What do you occupy yourself with, when you travel?
I have a book that I’m reading at the moment, a really good one, by Joel Osteen, ‘Your Best Starts Now.’ (laughs) I didn’t like reading at school, but I must start liking it now. Especially with all the travelling, I’m getting into it slowly.
What has been your most enjoyable foreign trip?
The Commonwealth (Games) in Melbourne, definitely! Being around all those professional athletes, people you look up to, it was just awesome to be a part of it. Just to be around those people, it’s very motivating, gives you something to work for.
Your most exotic international destination?
I’d say Holland was a bit shocking for me, the culture is very different to what I’m used to, and the way I grew up. We visited Amsterdam, it’s very like, it’s different. They do things very differently (laughs) to what I’m used to.
I’m just very conservative, and it was just like really eye-opening to see what’s going on there, and what’s happening there, it was just an eye-opener.
What do you miss the most, when you’re away?
Definitely, the stunning weather (laughs). I’m a beach girl, I love sunny weather, the heat and stuff (laughs). Umhlanga is my favourite beach in South Africa, my sister also lives there.
You are SA’s No. 1–ranked female player: When did you first reach the top position?
In 2005, when I was eighteen, I won my first national title, the SA National Championships. It was awesome, it was something you just can’t describe.
If you’re working so hard for something, and you finally achieve it, you can’t describe the feeling, it’s awesome. The sense of relief, also, kicking in (laughs) …
Can you describe the feeling, when the South African team beat Australia in the opening match of the World Squash Champs in Canada?
Yes, that was a major upset, it was awesome. We went into the game, like, we didn’t really expect anything, we were sort of the underdogs, and we just said we were going to go and give our best, and as the game went on, we started realising, wait, we have a chance here, and it got really tense.
We all got really excited, and afterwards, we were just like ecstatic! Then we had to play Holland, which we lost unfortunately, yeah, I would never really have beat Vanessa (Atkinson), she was then the world number two.
But the other two, our no. 2 (Claire Nitch), she got injured, but she came back and it was really close, and Diana (Argyle), the no. 3, she also lost 3-2, so it was really like very close. Afterwards, we beat Germany, and then we lost to New Zealand, and that’s where I got my biggest win (against Shelley Kitchen).
You’ve upset internationally-recognised big names this year, what has international squash’s reaction been to Tenille Swartz?
It’s been brilliant, really, because I started two months ago on the tour, and I thought like it’s going to be a while before people start seeing me on the tour, and to make my mark, but it all happened so quickly, I’m just very grateful, I feel like I’ve been blessed a lot.
You were one of three nominees for the annual WISPA Young Player of the Year Award, in which you beat leading contenders:
It’s awesome, it’s brilliant. I was just happy to be nominated in the first case, then I found out I won, I’m just ecstatic, it’s brilliant! It’s good to know that hard work does pay off. I feel I’ve put in a lot of hard work, and I’m very happy.
I must say these last two-three months really meant a lot for my squash, it really helped me with my squash, and to get on the squash tour and scene. If it wasn’t for this, I don’t think I would have had any of the awards of achievements I have now.