Unearthing Tennis Stars

by | Jun 1, 2007

Since Amanda Coetzer’s retirement from competitive tennis, South Africa has struggled to unearth a women’s star who has been able to make it big internationally.

The question is being asked more and more these days; ‘Who will be South Africa’s next woman champion’? Most of the individuals gsport spoke to, say that a lack of money is the main problem in women’s tennis, and results in its poor state.

Ashley Kotzin, CEO of Forwardzone which sponsors a host of young tennis players, says he is worried about the state of the game.
“Ultimately, the way we gauge any kind of sporting level in the country, is how competitive we are on an international scale.” Says Kotzin. “If we look at South African women in the world of tennis, there aren’t any in the top 100, and outside of that there are very few.
“Even if we look at the junior ranks of the world ITF rankings, there is only one South African in the top 100, and that is Monica Gorny, a young girl from KwaZulu-Natal. That brings me to the conclusion that, at the moment, the state of the game is not in great shape.”
Kotzin says he is surprised that Corporate South Africa hasn’t been interested in backing women’s tennis. “If you look globally at the state of women’s tennis, it’s absolutely pumping.
It’s extremely popular, it’s extremely sexy, and there are beautiful women playing tennis.
“As a result, you’ve got full courts and big endorsements values floating around the likes of Maria Sharapova and other young girls. But I haven’t had much interest from sponsors.”
Iain Smith, CEO of the South African Tennis Association, told gsport that, like the men’s game, women’s tennis is not where it should be.
“We have some very good up and coming youngsters who need international exposure,” said Smith.
“Currently our top players on the WTA circuit, Liezel Huber, Chane Scheepers, Natalie Grandin and Alicia Pillay, to name a few, have done very well with limited resources.”
But Smith is confident things can be turned around. “Now with the fantastic support of SA Airways and the National Lottery, we will be able to re-introduce the SATA “squad system”, which will allow us to send our players to compete overseas,” he elaborated.
“It is also imperative that we host more events in our own country, something we are striving to achieve. Amanda Coetzer, Marian de Swart and Joanette Kruger achieved high WTA rankings because of international exposure through a squad system.”
Journalist Liryn de Jager, who has covered international tennis for the past few years, agrees it’s a sad state of affairs at the moment, but chooses to look on the bright side.
“After Amanda Coetzer retired a couple of years ago, we’ve all been waiting for the next star to step up to the plate, but nothing has happened.
“The Fed Cup team is also not what it used to be. But luckily there is someone like Liezel Huber who is doing brilliantly as a doubles player (she’s currently ranked number 4 in the world!) and hopefully with a cash injection, we can start building for the future again,” said De Jager.
Contacted for her take on the situation, Amanda Coetzer told gsport: “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,” said Coetzer.
“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.”
Offering a current player’s perspective, gsport’s June gSTAR Alicia Pillay said: “We definitely need more marketing, and above all money, money is central to any development, which women’s tennis does not have right now in SA!”
As Wimbledon fast approaches, no doubt there are dozens of young tennis starlets out there, dreaming of representing South Africa on the international stage one day. Let’s hope Corporate South Africa can play a big role in helping turn women’s tennis around.

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