JOHANNESBURG – Living at the southern tip of Africa has its benefits but when you are a squash player hoping to crack it into the competitive world of the racquet sport it can be tough.
While South Africa is often the top dog across many sporting codes on the continent, it is a small player in squash compared to Egypt.
The North Africans are a dominant force of international squash with Egypt accounting for six of the top-10 ranked men in the world at the moment.
Squash is similar to tennis where players have to regularly feature in the Professional Squash Association (PSA) Challenger Tour that is played around the world to earn points and a living.
JP Brits, who was the top-seeded South African at this week’s Growthpoint SA Open in Pretoria, is the only local boy that gets to play regularly on the PSA circuit.
This would not have been possible if it was not for the generous support of sponsors and the ranking points he earned for winning the Gauteng Open in April.
Hosting one of the big PSA tournaments pretty much boils down to the depth of organisers’ pockets.
Squash South Africa has been able to host a PSA Challenger Tour 10 thanks to the involvement of Growthpoint.
Players earn ranking points based on how far they advance in the draw at a tournament where points are determined by the size of the prize money and the draw.
Rankings are issued each month where the total number of points a player earned in the previous 12 months is divided by the number of tournaments played where a minimum of 10 is advised.
It often takes a long time before a South African squash player makes a break and in Brits’ case, it happened this year.
“The higher your ranking, the greater the opportunity it is to make it into big tournaments,” Brits explained. “I hope to be ranked among the top-100 players by the end of this year and hopefully among the best 50 and beyond by 2020.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get a sponsor over the last month and it is possible that it could be the first year that I would be playing at 10 tournaments.”
It is a vicious circle where once a squash player makes it beyond a certain point, let’s say they have played more than 10 tournaments which means more points, they start to earn a living and make it in the sport.
Squash South Africa is looking to introduce a series where local players can gain experience against each other and earn points that would count towards the international rankings.
Milnay Louw, who is South Africa’s best female player at the SA Open on the go in the country’s capital city, knows full well how difficult it is to crack it among the best in the world.
“I would like to play more of the major tournaments to get a better a ranking. Funding is the biggest problem when trying to get the opportunity to play at as many tournaments as possible to get the necessary exposure to feature among the best in the world,” Louw said. “You need to play a minimum of 10 tournaments a year and if you play less you have a lower average.
“I’ve never played more than 10 tournaments the most I have played has been about six or seven, so I have a few more to go.”
Stephen Coppinger provided the golden standard for young South Africans to aspire to before he announced his retirement in 2017 after an 11-year career.
He bowed out of the sport at the age of 33 with 10 PSA World Tour titles behind his name, having also reached a career-high No 14 in April 2015.
Brits believes the Egyptian model has provided youngsters not only a pipeline but also a host of role models to emulate.
Coppinger served as a tangible example of what could be achieved by South African squash players when they manage to get the right mix of funding and opportunities.
Increased financial support could see players such as Louw and Brits follow in the footsteps of Copping and serve as role models to aspiring youngsters.
This content sponsored by the Growthpoint SA Open.