The ball is now in Ten­nis SA’s court to help un­earth ta­lent

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

NOTH­ING like com­pet­i­tive ten­nis in the Boland re­gion to en­hance the ca­reers of Africa’s finest ta­lent.

A se­ries of $ 10 000 Fu­tures events is be­ing played in Stel­len­bosch at the Maties Ten­nis Club, the third and fi­nal one of the en­trylevel ATP tour­na­ments end­ing to­mor­row.

South Africa starred in the men’s draw with sec­ond-seeded Davis Cup star Nik Scholtz edg­ing top seed Pas­cal Brun­ner of Aus­tria 7-6(5) 7-5 in the first fi­nal to clinch his third vic­tory of the year at this level.

The sec­ond fi­nal last Sun­day saw Lloyd Har­ris of Cape Town make it through to the fi­nal, but the 18-year-old, who is ranked No 4 in the coun­try, had to set­tle for sec­ond best in a 7-6(4) 6-1 loss to Aus­tria’s Lu­cas Mei­dler. Va­le­ria Bhunu tri­umphed in the women’s fi­nal. Zim­babwe’s Lesedi Ja­cobs won the first event.

The top play­ers now have three weeks of ac­tion as they bat­tle it out against over­seas op­po­si­tion. The for­eign con­tin­gent dom­i­nate the num­bers in both cat­e­gories, and the fact that they play a good few more events back home gives them an added ad­van­tage.

This is where the money part kicks in. With the ma­jor­ity of Fu­tures tak­ing place in and around Europe – Turkey, for ex­am­ple, stages usu­ally one ev­ery week of the year – SA’s hope­fuls, who are shy of fi­nan­cial aid, are on the back foot from the get-go.

Some, like Kevin An­der­son, beat the odds. His re­cent move up the world rank­ings to a ca­reer-high 10th place (cur­rently 12th) wouldn’t have gone un­no­ticed.

The SA-born player is now based in the US and his de­ci­sion to move over­seas has been vin­di­cated as his game has im­proved im­mensely.

Ten­nis SA should now ad­dress the fact that only three lo­cal men other than An­der­son fea­ture in the top 500 world rank­ings. They are Tucker Vorster (327), Scholtz (457) and Har­ris (500).

It’s worse in the women’s ranks. Chanel Sim­monds leads the pack ranked 314, fol­lowed by Ilze Hat­tingh (694) and Madrie le Roux (793).

Closer work­ing re­la­tions with prov­inces should be the or­der of the day to start un­earthing ta­lent. Then the nur­tur­ing side of things ev­ery step of the way.

More age- group tour­na­ments are a must. Those who then fea­ture promi­nently should re­ceive full back­ing from the con­trol­ling body in or­der to re­alise their full po­ten­tial. It’s go­ing to cost plenty, but that’s the way it is.

Did TSA not splash out mil­lions in ap­pear­ance fees for big-name play­ers to com­pete in the SA and Soweto opens, two tour­na­ments that have fallen away due to one rea­son or another. That money could have been used to stage sev­eral Fu­tures.

Too many young­sters are fall­ing by the way­side for rea­sons be­yond their con­trol, and it’s a very sad sit­u­a­tion. Young play­ers from dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties are worst off, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

For­tu­nately here in Cape Town, there are peo­ple who care about the plight of these young­sters.

A ten­nis academy in Bantry Bay, run by former pro­fes­sional player An­thony Har­ris, of­fers hope. Har­ris and An­thula Markovitz, the founder of Match (Make a Cham­pion), have launched a project in Mitchell’s Plain to un­earth ta­lent.

Just tak­ing the game to the masses has proved to be a hit; al­ready there are 195 kids ben­e­fit­ting, some show­ing huge po­ten­tial like Leo Matthy­sen and Mikaeel Wood­man.

They have shown great im­prove­ment since join­ing the academy.

What a change in for­tunes for them and who knows, they maybe cham­pi­ons in wait­ing.

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