Women in Sport: The Little Assassin who chose the quiet life

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Women in Sport: The Little Assassin who chose the quiet life

Amanda Coetzer of South Africa returns a shot to Gabriela Lastra during the US Open on August 25, 2003 at the USTA National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in Flushing, New York. Coetzer won 6-0, 6-2. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Amanda Coetzer was in the spotlight for years as one of SA’s few world-class tennis exponents. Then she essentially disappeared.

There was a time when Amanda Coetzer was a household name in her home country, and though she has since opted to recede from the limelight, there is good reason she remains one of South Africa’s most iconic sport stars. Now 48, Coetzer announced in 2008 that she would not be conducting further media interviews, opting to focus on her personal life after marrying Israeli billionaire film producer Arnon Milchan. “I have decided to shy away from media attention,” Coetzer said.

Producer Arnon Milchan (L) and his wife Amanda Coetzer arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of “12 Years A Slave” at Directors Guild Of America on October 14, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

“For 15 years the media owned me and I gave them all the co-operation they required. Now I need the space, the privacy and the respect to be able to live a personal life out of the public eye.”

Born in the town of Hoopstad in the Free State, Coetzer has spent most of her adult life in the United States, but she has always clung to her SA roots.

Having started playing tennis at the age of six, she eventually turned professional in January 1988, at the age of 16.

After competing in the qualifying rounds at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1988, she turned out in the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time the following year, making a spectacular breakthrough by reaching the fourth round at the French Open.

It would be some time before Coetzer progressed further at a Grand Slam, but with consistent success on the WTA Tour, she managed to climb into the top 20 in the world rankings in the 1992 season.

Coetzer went on to pick up her first victory on the WTA Tour in Melbourne in January 1993, and she took another step forward by reaching the quarterfinals at the US Open in 1994.

In 1996, she opened the season in style by reaching a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time at the Australian Open.

Again progressing to the penultimate round at Melbourne Park the following season, as well as at the French Open, she went on to reach a career high No 3 in the world rankings in November 1997.

That same year she received the WTA’s Most Improved Player Award.

Though she never contested a Grand Slam singles final, Coetzer did reach the doubles final at the 1993 US Open with Argentine player Ines Gorrochategui, where the ultimately lost in straight sets to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain and Helena Sukova of the Czech Republic.

Standing at 1.58 metres, Coetzer earned the nickname “The Little Assassin” after securing multiple victories over higher ranked players throughout her career.

In the 1997 season she beat world No 1 Steffi Graf of Germany three times, and after Swiss player Martina Hingis took over the top spot later in the campaign, Coetzer beat her too.

Aside from Graf and Hingis, she also bagged career wins over the likes of Vicario, Belgian Justine Henin, and Americans Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams.

In total, Coetzer earned nine career singles titles on the WTA Tour.

She also secured nine titles with various partners in the doubles division.

A three-time Olympian, she represented the national Fed Cup team in 27 ties between 1992 and 2003, and in 2000 Coetzer teamed up with former men’s world No 6 Wayne Ferreira to win the Hopman Cup, with the South African duo outclassing Thailand in the final to
lift the trophy in the international team competition.

A permanent fixture on the circuit for more than a decade, Coetzer competed in all four Grand Slam tournaments every year between 1993 and 2003.

After her retirement in 2004, while she admitted it hadn’t been an easy path, she looked back fondly on her career.

“I had my ups and my downs,” Coetzer said.

“But I can confidently say that I enjoyed my chosen career as a pro, and despite the sacrifices, it was well worth it.”

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