Vital for our tennis stars to pop in at home

Columnists 6 months ago

South African tennis has gone back to its roots, and the focus is on developing younger players. But it needs visits from Kevin Anderson and Lloyd Harris.

02 Feb 2020
Vital for our tennis stars to pop in at home

Wesley Botton.

Two figures float through the grandstand, surrounded by media and officials, as a crowd of youngsters on the court below follows them with eager expressions and watchful eyes. For many, the chance to meet Kevin Anderson might not be top of the list of things to do on a Friday afternoon, but for these children it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Anderson, based in the United States, has been criticised for making himself unavailable to the national team in recent years, and it’s been a long time since he played a match on home soil.

Kevin Anderson was a popular man in Soweto this week. Photo: Tennis South Africa/Facebook.

But he’s made his way back for this, and it’s a worthwhile venture.

In an attempt to expand the sport in recent years, South African tennis has gone back to its roots, and the focus is on developing younger players and providing them with opportunities.

The results have been almost immediate, and while two-time Grand Slam finalist Anderson has been revered for some time, fellow singles prospect Lloyd Harris has now cemented his place as the nation’s next big hope on the ATP Tour.

So rather than searching elsewhere for participants, when Tennis SA wanted to include an exhibition match to motivate junior players at a youth festival, they needed to look no further than the country’s top-ranked players.

And so it is that Anderson and Harris will square off on Sunday, on the sidelines of the RCS Rising Stars national finals.

An equally fitting choice for the festival, which also includes a development clinic, was the venue.

Few sporting facilities in SA areas well used as the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in Soweto, and it was the perfect venue to host the clinic, the exhibition match and the Rising Stars finals, which brings an end to a seven-month contest involving 361 primary schools.

Giving hundreds of youngsters the experience of knocking a ball around with some of the world’s best players is perhaps invaluable.

Add to that the chances they are given to play regularly in a league competition on decent facilities, and it seems the sport of tennis has found a recipe for success.

The proof, of course, is in the pudding, and a succession of players will need to perform over a few generations before it is clear whether a long-term system truly works.

However, based on how delighted the kids were just to see Anderson and Harris bobbing through the crowd in Soweto on Friday was enough to indicate that plenty is being done to drive their passion for the sport.

And if TSA’s plan works, perhaps they’ll have two more world-class players returning home in 10 years to explain to the youth how they started in the same place.

The federation certainly seems to be on the right track.

As is often the case, however, only time will tell.

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