Kevin Anderson’s success a boost for tennis in SA

Serbia's Novak Djokovic smiles as he carries the winners trophy after beating South Africa's Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 in their men's singles final match on the thirteenth day of the 2018 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 15, 2018.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic smiles as he carries the winners trophy after beating South Africa's Kevin Anderson 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 in their men's singles final match on the thirteenth day of the 2018 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 15, 2018.
Image: Oli SCARFF / AFP

Kevin Anderson’s recent run to the Wimbledon men’s singles final and a career high ranking of No 5 has given tennis in South Africa a boost‚ which the sport’s managing body is hoping to leverage.

Tennis SA‚ under chief executive Richard Glover‚ has been making steady progress in terms of attracting sponsors and opening performance centres over the past 18 months.

But Anderson’s leap up the rankings and remarkable run at Wimbledon‚ which included beating eight-time winner Roger Federer in the quarterfinals‚ has raised the sport’s profile locally.

Although Anderson lost the final to Novak Djokovic in straight sets after an epic six hour and 36 minute semi-final win over John Isner‚ which included him winning the fifth set 26-24‚ tennis has enjoyed a massive boost.

“It was interesting because although Kevin reached the final is the US Open in 2017‚ the reaction was nothing like his quarterfinal win over Federer at Wimbledon‚” Glover said.

“That US Open run helped us at Tennis SA in terms of the profile of the sport‚ but his Wimbledon run was on a completely different scale.

“Wimbledon is viewed as the biggest tournament in the world‚ the fact that Kevin beat Federer and the way he beat him (coming from two sets and a match point down) that captured the imagination and excited people.

“We didn't just have Kevin in the final at Wimbledon‚ we also had Raven Klaasen in the doubles. It really put Tennis back in the spotlight.”

The key is how Tennis SA manages to make the most of the success of Anderson in particular‚ over the coming weeks and months.

“At Tennis SA‚ we don't want to be seen to be taking credit‚ or claiming Kevin’s achievements for ourselves because it’s his achievement‚” Glover said.

“But we want to celebrate the success of our tennis players too.

“There has been a lot of really positive work going on behind the scenes from a local perspective for some time now.

“In the last 12 months we have signed nine sponsors. From a grassroots and development perspective we have launched a national club championship and we are also in the process of launching five national tennis development centres.

“Three of those have already been opened and Kevin’s success allows us to talk about those things because it shines a light on tennis in this country.

“Ultimately our biggest mandate is to make tennis as widely available as possible and if a young girl or boy watched Kevin at Wimbledon and is inspired to take up the sport‚ it’s then up to us to make it as freely available as possible.

“We are not quite where we want to be‚ but we have made some progress in the past year. We are trying to use both Kevin and Raven as inspirations.”

The three national development centres that have opened are in Cape Town‚ Soweto at the Arthur Ashe facility and Atteridgeville in Tshwane. There are plans for two more in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Junior structures and centres of excellence are vital to provide pathways for talented young players to progress and Anderson is particularly interested in this aspect.

“I’ve been in the job since December 2016 and Kevin has been out here twice in that time‚ where we have discussed his interest in tennis in SA‚” Glover said.

“He is passionate junior tennis and his passion is to help junior high performance players go to the next level.

“We have a junior player named Lleyton Cronje who was at the French Open and Wimbledon and at both tournaments Kevin invited him to be a hitting partner. That is a massive experience for a youngster.”

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