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Tennis calls for more support

South Africa’s tennis officials believe the nation could be one of the best in the world in the sport if given more support.

Ian Smith, chief executive of the South African Tennis Association (Sata), and John-Laffnie de Jager, non-playing captain of the nation’s Davis Cup team, called for more assistance from the government after losing 5-0 to Germany, despite putting up a tremendous fight, in the World Group play-off of the international team competition in Stuttgart at the weekend.

ÔÇ£We have a good junior base, and although we have good coaches, they’re not at the standard of others worldwide, because they don’t have the opportunities to travel,ÔÇØ said Smith.

ÔÇ£Our coaches have to base their prowess on local content and the ITF theory syllabus. They can’t learn much from what they see the best players doing on TV. So we need to get them on more international courses, and we need to give them more exposure to the international game on a hands-on basis.

ÔÇ£We also don’t have enough ITF Future events for the younger players, because it’s too expensive. But it’s also too expensive to ┬ásend them overseas to play, because you can’t send them alone. They must have a support base with them.ÔÇØ

Smith said a substantial amount of the federation’s funding came from the Lotto Board, but added it was not enough. For South Africans to qualify for the Davis Cup World Group, which they last did in 1998, he said they would need more financial assistance.

ÔÇ£We are talking to sponsors, and I must be clear that SASCOC have been good to us. The Lotto has been exceptional, and we’re appreciative of that, but I need to urge the government to do more in the way of assisting our development.

ÔÇ£In the current economy, corporations are not in a position to sponsor us so we can build claycourt facilities, have sports science testing for the players, and that sort of thing.

ÔÇ£And it’s not just tennis. Other sports are in the same boat because all the focus is on rugby, soccer and cricket. We know the government don’t have a great deal of funds to spend on sport, but we’ve got to talk to them and discuss plans on how we’re going to go forward and bring some sponsors on board.

ÔÇ£Sata have a plan, and it’s working, but we need help if we’re going to take the sport to the next level. If we had the funding, I know we could produce some of the best players in the world. We’ve done it in the past from a small pool of players, and today, in the rainbow nation, all people are included and we can produce even more champions than we’ve done before.ÔÇØ

On the ATP and WTA circuits, Smith said, South Africa’s professionals are all alone, week in and week out. ÔÇ£Our professional players are given no support when they’re on the circuit because we just can’t afford it. Some of the guys have part-time coaches, but we need a national coach who is able to travel overseas regularly and assist the players.

ÔÇ£Right now, our players have to worry about travelling, accommodation, where they’re going to practice, what they’re going to eat, and a long list of other things.

ÔÇ£We need to give them proper support so they don’t have to worry about those things. Then they can simply focus on playing tennis.ÔÇØ
De Jager, who vowed to fight again next season for a place in the World Group, also said he believed the team could compete against the world’s best with the right support structures.

ÔÇ£We’ve reached the play-offs for the Davis Cup World Group for the last two years in a row, and only one player in our team, Wesley Moodie (ranked No 20 in doubles), is in the top 100 in the world. We’re competing against guys who are ranked in the top 50, and we’re holding our own against them.

ÔÇ£Germany might have won 5-0, but the result doesn’t tell the whole story. At no stage did they run away with the tie. We put up a good fight in every match. Imagine what we could do if we had more support from back home, and had claycourts in South Africa, which is vital for youngsters to develop properly. The guys are ready to step up to the next level, but they can’t ┬ádo it alone. They need help to be able to take that step.ÔÇØ