Soweto Open helps tennis take root in township

It turned out a model tennis tournament in all respects, with an impeccable Arthur Ashe Complex a veritable oasis amid the drab surroundings and all the dire, pre-event misgivings about the ATP's historic initial Soweto Open turning out to be no more than a mirage.

It turned out a model tennis tournament in all respects, with an impeccable Arthur Ashe Complex a veritable oasis amid the drab surroundings and all the dire, pre-event misgivings about the ATP's historic initial Soweto Open turning out to be no more than a mirage.

Now the Gauteng provincial government, the City of Joburg and the National Lottery Board, who jointly ploughed R12million into transforming the derelict venue into a mini-tennis jewel in a month, are set on spending an additional R9million to complete what will be a 16-court complex with three show courts for major tournaments.

Ultimately last week, even the empty stands were transformed for the weekend's matches and more than half the stadium was filled with curious but appreciative spectators for the final in which the engaging French drawcard, Fabrice Santoro, beat South Africa's game Rik de Voest 7-5 6-4 for the tournament's top prize of R140 000.

Santoro, who is on a week's safari in South Africa right now, improved his world ranking from 52nd to 46th as a result of the Soweto event and De Voest is now on the verge of surpassing Kevin Anderson as the country's top tennis player.

The follow-up women's WTA tournament next week at the Arthur Ashe Complex might not prove as notable without a drawcard of the calibre of the magical Santoro, but South African Tennis Association chief executive Ian Smith inisists that "tennis has taken root in Soweto".

And testing the assessment next month will be the staging of a vital Euro-Africa Davis Cup tie for South Africa against Belarus. - Sapa

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