Ellina Mhlanga, Sports Reporter
HOPE is slowly fading away for a quick return to the top for tennis in Zimbabwe.
The sport, which at some point enjoyed global attention during the days when the Blacks siblings Byron, Wayne and their sister Cara were at the peak of their careers, is currently struggling to reach the same levels.
Byron and Wayne formed the core of the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team that reached the Davis Cup World Group in 1998. Kevin Ullyett and Genius Chidzikwe were also part of that side. But after their retirement, tennis has never been the same again in this country.
Tennis Zimbabwe (TZ) president, Martin Lock, said Zimbabwe was lucky to have players of the calibre of the Black siblings and it was inevitable the country would find it difficult to replace them.
And as the nation remains hopeful for a better future in the sport, there is need to appreciate that success will not be achieved overnight.
“Byron, Wayne and Cara Black, even Kevin Ullyett, were exceptional. We were incredibly fortunate to have them playing in our country and I don’t know of any family in the world that has produced three number one players in the world in doubles, which is what they have done.
“So, they were exceptional and they are incredible role models for any tennis player in Zimbabwe.”
Lock admits it’s not easy for players to break into the professional circuit and limited resources have also contributed to the current situation haunting the sport, with most of the support coming from parents.
However, he believes the situation is not as bad as it appears with the opportunity of scholarships for those that are determined to work hard enough to earn them.
“It’s a very tough transition from junior to senior. The stepping stone I think if you want to do well as a senior is to go to (a university) college in America.
The American university system is the best in the world for sport. There is funding there, coaching, training, development, exposure and there is travelling.
“And any youngster who can manage to get a scholarship to America, I am not talking only about tennis but it can be for any sport, that’s your training ground to go on to the senior tour. So what we have got to try and do is position ourselves to keep feeding our players into the American Universities (system). And then from there the next transition is to get onto the World Tour.
“The World Tour is a different story again because it is very expensive. You have got to have funding in place, you have got to have access to a coach, you have got to have equipment and it’s tough. You start at the bottom and you work your way up,” Lock said.
The TZ president said with the current crop of players such as Takanyi Garanganga, brothers Benjamin and Courtney Lock, who are currently active on the World Tour as well as Mehluli Sibanda, who has been doing well at the junior level, there is still hope to bring back the glory days.
“I think they are only going to get better and stronger. So from having relatively a few players on the World Tour, it was just Takanyi on his own and Mark Fynn. We have now got a few other players.
“My heart is aimed at trying to get sponsors who assist our players on the World Tour. Other countries, that’s what they do for their players. But they are much bigger and stronger federations, so they are able to. But if we could provide a coach, cover the travelling and accommodation expenses, I think we could see our players performing better because they got more exposure,” Martin Lock said.
Tennis coach, Richmore Murape, said there is need to have continuity to strike a balance between juniors and seniors to avoid such gaps that have seen the country struggling to make an impact on the globe.
“In terms of tennis, I think we have started pulling up because now we can see juniors coming up. We had a break from the time of Byron, Wayne, (Martin) Dzuwa and (Genius) Chidzikwe. But now we have some upcoming players.
“We still have challenges in terms of structures in provinces, we should have proper structures. Most of the players are benefiting from private coaching. If we can have centres of excellence which will be like a feeder, it can change our tennis.
“Now we have Benjamin, Courtney and Takanyi but after them what are we going to do? We have a number of kids going on scholarships outside, we need to encourage them to come back, although it needs money,” said Murape.
The national association is currently working on the Davis Cup competition in July where Zimbabwe will be aiming to regain promotion into the Europe/Africa Group II after being relegated to Africa Zone Group III last year.