SA tennis players forced to play abroad

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iol spt feb3 De Voest Gallo Images South Africa's Rik de Voest is based overseas. Picture: Reg Caldecott/Gallo Images

Johannesburg – South Africa's Davis Cup captain John-Laffnie de Jager says the lack of local tennis tournaments poses a threat for development in the country.

“The system in South Africa is not good for our players, and if players want to do well in tennis, they have to go play for an American college to develop,” De Jager said.

“The system in this country with university tennis is not good. They don't have competitive tennis and yet you have to play against players who will push you at your game if you want to improve.”

He said local players often struggled with their careers when they turned professional and it was too expensive to fund their careers from South Africa. They were forced to sign up for scholarship opportunities abroad.

South Africa's top singles player Kevin Anderson, currently ranked 22nd in the world, played three seasons of college tennis in the US at the University of Illinois before pursuing his professional tennis career full-time.

Nik Scholtz, who represented South Africa over the weekend in the Davis Cup, is also based in the US where he plays college tennis at the University of Mississippi.

“In an American coach, you have the right coach, you get sponsored and you have a full technical team that takes care of you.”

De Jager said more effort was needed in ensuring players were properly developed in South Africa.

There should be more ITF Futures events on the local calendar, which would give many unranked players opportunities to enter tournaments and earn crucial points to climb the rankings, he said.

Futures events fall under the ITF Men's Circuit and represent the lowest entry tournament for professionals who look to earn ATP ranking points.

They enable young professionals to progress onto the ATP Challenger Tour and ultimately the full ATP World Tour.

While South Africa had hosted five Futures events during 2012 and 2013, there were no further events planned for 2014.

“Futures is the best and cheapest way of developing tennis in our country. With Futures, we are giving 15-16 players an opportunity to play each week and that's great for development,” De Jager said.

“We know sponsors just want big events, because that's where they get all their publicity, but if you look at all the strong tennis nations in the world, they have a massive amount of Futures.

“Our kids need to learn how to play in our country at altitude. It gives them an advantage to get points and when they travel and play overseas they get more points.

“Government also needs to help the cause and pump more money in because that develops skills.”

South Africa defeated Monaco 3-2 in the Davis Cup Euro-Africa Group Two first round tie over the weekend in Pretoria. They face Lithuania, at home, in a second round tie in April. – Sapa


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