Tennis may not be in the top three sports in South Africa, but there have been reasonable interest and notable popularity around this individual sport. South African tennis is reaching new heights as a more diverse population is starting to show interest in tennis, more than 25 years since the apartheid regime. People usually comment on South African tennis as being a big sport in the nation, but also a sort of a sleeping giant.
South African professional tennis players have often been on the brink of winning a Grand Slam title, but have never accomplished it - yet. Still, South African tennis has spurred multiple world-famous players and maintains participation levels in key tournaments.
History of Tennis in SA and Famous Tennis Players
- Women's tennis in South Africa has been played since the 1920’s, on an international level. It has been predominantly played by English-speaking white women. South Africa began competing in the Fed Cup during the inaugural year of the tournament. A white SA professional tennis player partnered with a black American to play professional doubles in 2001, when Amanda Coetzer became partner with Lori McNeil.
- The national governing body for tennis in South Africa is Tennis South Africa (TSA), a non-profit organisation which dedicates its work to promoting and developing the growth of tennis across the South African nation.
- The best tennis players from South Africa are: Amanda Coetzer (remained in the top-20 on the women's world rankings for over a decade, regularly beat players who were higher ranked than her and earned the nickname "The Little Assassin" because of it), Kevin Anderson (the first SA tennis player to reach the US Open in the Open era, as of 14th of May 2018 he is ranked world No. 7 in men's singles by the ATP), Johan Kriek (won two Australian Opens and reached the semi-finals at the French Open and US Open, as well as the quarterfinals of Wimbledon), Kevin Curren and Wayne Ferreira.
- The South African Open, originally known as the South African Championships, was founded in 1891. The men's South African Open event joined the ATP Tour in 1990 as part of the Grand Prix Super Series of tournaments (predecessor of the current ATP World Tour Masters 1000). South African Open was played in locations such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and Pretoria. It was an outdoor hard courts tournament that lasted 120 years. It was abolished in 2011. Symbolically, it was Kevin Anderson that won the last South African Open on home turf.
Fun Tennis Facts
- Interestingly, Roger Federer’s mother, Lynette Federer, was born in South Africa’s Joburg, and he credits the family trips to SA while he was growing up for getting the inspiration to start a Foundation and help the less fortunate in SA and other African countries.
- Arthur Ashe fought to play tennis in apartheid South Africa in the early 70’s. SA tennis player Cliff Drysdale mentioned the South African Open to Arthur Ashe and added that they would never let him play, being black. Arthur Ashe’s SA visa was declined two times. He eventually got the chance to play and made it to the finals in 1973 competing against Jimmy Connors in Johannesburg, becoming an inspiration for young black people in the country who started to see sports as a source of freedom.
Current SA tennis superstar Kevin Anderson is vocal about being opposed to the use of plastic in tennis. Covers on newly-strung rackets are pointless, according to Anderson. He encourages players to change the water bottles used during matches and keeps trying to make the ATP tour as plastic-free as possible.