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Above left: Raven Klaasen says this is very exciting times for tennis in South Africa. Above right: Kevin Anderson is setting a high standard for South African juniors to follow. Photos supplied by Tennis South Africa.

Q4 2018

Tennis on a roll

With two South Africans among the best-of-the best and local tournaments to help juniors gain international experience and improve their world rankings, tennis is on a high. This is good news for retailers as well.

This year the Nitto ATP Finals had special significance for South Africans. As we were getting ready for print, Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen were preparing to make history by (hopefully) becoming the first South Africans to reach the semi-finals of this prestigious year-end final to the ATP World Tour season in which only the world’s best eight singles players and doubles teams are invited to participate.

Regardless of the outcome, Lotto would have gotten a brand boost during the Round Robin stages where two South Africans for the first time competed. Both Anderson and Klaasen are sponsored by Lotto, which is also the Tennis South Africa clothing and footwear sponsor.

It is estimated that about 250 000 fans would watch the matches in the O2 Arena in London and an average 95-m TV viewers would watch it across the world.

Anderson, who plays with a Dunlop racket, became the 6th player to qualify when he won the Vienna Open in October — the first singles player from South Africa in 23 years to secure a place in the final after Wayne Ferreira qualified in 1995. This year he also finished in the year-end Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. When he played in the Wimbledon final in July, he reached a record high ATP ranking of #5.

Klaasen, sponsored by Head, qualified for the final with his New Zealand partner, Michael Venus, in their first season as a pair. Klaasen has a world ranking of #18. It is his third appearance at the ATP Final.

But, while the spotlight focus on Anderson and Klaasen, several other South Africans are quietly showing that there is good reason to hope for a revival of South African tennis.

For example, the young rising star, Lloyd Harris, was selected as the first alternate in the Next Gen ATP Finals for U21 players in Milan, Italy. If any of the chosen eight had dropped out of the tournament, he would have stepped in to take that place. Harris, ranked #110 in the world, plays with a Yonex racket and also wears Lotto.

And almost unnoticed, two South African women’s doubles teams recently won silver in the ITF Young Seniors World Team and Individual Championships in Miami, US. Twin sisters Dedri and Lindi Prinsloo of Boland won silver in the Women’s 40+ doubles and Jackie Booth and Ohmar Fernandes of Western Province in the Women’s 45+ doubles.

If the surge in top class tennis performances inspire the next generation to play at a higher level, retailers will benefit. No other sport requires as many accessories that have to be replaced so regularly.

Dirk Klopper cites the example of all the extras his 17-year old son, Joubert, who achieved an ITF world ranking of #155 in October, requires: on average, four rackets have to be stringed per week, and his shoes have to be replaced every month. “Balls only last one set in a tournament.”

Junior tennis is also receiving much attention. “There is a good vibe going on in South Africa about tennis,” comments Klaasen, who signed on as ambassador for the ITF Digicall Futures tournament that will be played for the fourth consecutive year in Stellenbosch at the end of November.

“TSA in recent years have been pushing the right buttons and it seems that people are excited to be part of and play the game. We have seen a string of new sponsors partner with TSA, and in my opinion, tennis is entering into exciting times. I never had the opportunity of playing the game in such exciting times as a junior and young pro, so I hope to stretch my career a little longer than planned to be part of this new TSA era.”

“The Digicall Futures plays a vital role in the development of future stars,” says Klaasen. “Lloyd Harris got his breakthrough into professional tennis through the Digicall Futures which he dominated, resulting in him climbing up the world rankings.”

Klaasen plans on attending the week-long tournament that attracts junior players from more than 20 countries to meet and speak to the young players. “I look forward to being in Stellenbosch. I want to offer help and advice to our juniors and there is no better way than meeting them face to face and watching them play in the flesh.”

Tennis South Africa (TSA) is planning on attracting more international tennis to South Africa through tournaments like the Digicall Futures. Other positive news is that TSA has signed a sponsorship agreement with Stellenbosch University to build a national tennis center at the University. The project is in its early stages, but Klaasen believes it will help in the development of future stars.

Stellenbosch has become a hub for junior tennis – the Curro Junior ITF 1 and 2 international tennis tournaments were, for example, played there in August and September. The back-to-back international junior series attracted top juniors from ten countries around the world. Joubert Klopper, son of Kloppers Sport’s Dirk Klopper, won the ITF 1 tournament.

More good news is that participation at TSA Growthpoint Development Centre at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex in Soweto has exploded, with a promising 90% increase in players since its official launch earlier this year, according to a TSA statement.

In just a few months nearly 200 players have been drawn to the Soweto facility. This is the third Growthpoint tennis development centre, following the launch of the first one in Cape Town late last year and one in Pretoria in July. A fourth facility is operating at Westridge in Durban, with a fifth planned for the Eastern Cape in early 2019.

The Soweto Centre in Jabavu aims to provide a platform to grow tennis across the greater Johannesburg area. It is based at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex, which got a facelift and new lease of life in 2007, after it had not been properly maintained for several years. The hub has produced many talented players, including promising junior, Mbali Langa, and four players who were invited to Israel for a unique Children to Children Tennis Diplomacy Exchange in 2015.

“We want to make the new centre accessible for all, and so we had to go out to the community to invite them to come through,” says coach Patrick Tsunke, who runs the centre. “We roped in former players to assist and week by week, the numbers kept growing. We have at least five players that are ready to play ITF tournaments, and more promising athletes in the pipeline, so I can confidently say that we will see a few world champions from this complex.”

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