JOHANNESBURG - Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen’s success at this year’s Wimbledon will provide a further boost for local tennis, with even more youngsters expected to take up the sport.
Tennis South Africa had already noticed an upswing in interest last year when Anderson went all the way to the US Open final, but Wimbledon has a far greater impact in South Africa and is watched by many more viewers. As a result, said TSA’s chief executive, Richard Glover, interest will be even higher for the sport.
“Just in the last 12 months TSA has signed up nine new sponsors, and a lot of that is down to Kevin and the spotlight he has helped shine on tennis. The run to the final at Wimbledon, the coverage thereof, means interest in tennis will be exponentially bigger from an awareness perspective,” he explained.
Tennis SA has largely freed itself from the myriad of problems it had through the 2000s with a much bigger and sharper focus on juniors and development in previously-disadvantaged areas. Glover noted that this year national junior championships, held in March in Bloemfontein, had the largest number of participants in a decade. “Kevin and Raven’s achievements have garnered such publicity that I’ve noticed even people with little interest in sport getting excited, which can only be good for tennis in the country.”
Klaasen, alongside his New Zealand teammate Michael Venus, finished as runners-up in the mens doubles tournament, losing in five sets, but the publicity he’s garnered is just rewards for his resilience in a 16-year professional career. “I’m just so happy for Raven, even though some of the spotlight was lost because of Kevin’s run it’s still an amazing achievement for someone who is just a magnificent ambassador for South Africa. I can really see him becoming a Davis Cup captain one day, or the president of Tennis SA,” said Glover.
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Anderson, whose remarkable run at Wimbledon included a victory over the legendary Roger Federer and then a captivating six hour 36-minute semi-final win over John Isner, raised the profile of local tennis even more, by referencing how he hoped his performance will inspire youngsters in South Africa to follow in his foot steps and even better his achievements. “Kevin has a very strong interest in South African tennis, he knows what’s going on here, particularly at the junior level,” said Glover.
At the French Open in May, Anderson practiced with talented junior Lleyton Cronje and he constantly seeks updates on young players coming through the local system. Cronje and Philip Henning played in this year’s junior Wimbledon tournament, with the former being knocked out in qualifying and Henning losing in the first round. “TSA wants to position itself as a player-centric body. All the money we make must be invested back into our players so I’m very pleased that Henning, Cronje and Harris all received a level of support from TSA in the past 12 months.”
Providing that kind of assistance is a massive challenge for TSA, said Glover, and was an aspect Anderson reiterated at Wimbledon when outlining how hard it was for locals to crack it at the highest level internationally. “It’s not easy coming from South Africa, it’s very far from the tennis scene,” Anderson said last week.
“In that regard, there is only so much we as TSA can do,” Glover explained. “Bridging that distance from South Africa will require buy-in on many fronts, from parents, players, government and sponsors.”
Meanwhile, TSA is also ensuring that the sport makes it mark at grassroots level too and is at least available to play, for as many people as possible. “We are busy rolling out five Growthpoint Development Centres in historically under-serviced communities in South Africa. Three are in place, with two more to follow.”