The official 2019 tennis season is very much in full swing.
However, as exciting as it gets to be watching Grand Slam Tennis in 2019, any genuine sport lover in Africa would be extremely worried about the dearth of Africans in the top 100 rankings of both the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
On the men’s ATP rankings, there are only two men from Africa, both South Africans, in the form of Kevin Anderson (Number 6) and Lloyd Harris (Number 92).
The situation in the WTA rankings is more disheartening for Africa, with only one woman in the top 100 rankings ‑ 24-year-old Ons Jabeur, who ably represents Tunisia.
As much as all tennis enthusiasts and sport fans, in general, marvel at the amazing prowess exhibited in both the men and women’s categories, one cannot help but wonder why there continues to be an alarming absence of African players at such major events.
It is true that Rome was not built in one day but when you look at African tennis, you begin to ask whether there is any building in progress. If indeed workers are hard at work developing the game in Africa, where are the signs?
What are the milestones? When are we going to witness an African tennis player, man or woman, in the final of a Grand Slam tournament?
What is being done on the ground to ensure that this actually takes place, at least within our lifetimes?
The questions are not meant to antagonise the Confederation of African Tennis (CAT) and its member federations.
The questions are meant to stimulate debate and unravel the truth about the development of the game on the African continent.
Obviously, the president of CAT, as an executive board member of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and some of his officials are accorded opportunities to travel and witness these Grand Slam events.
How do they feel about attending event after event on the world tennis calendar without seeing any of their compatriots from the African continent making a visible impact on the game?
What is being done to really develop and transform the game on the continent? Africans have made a tremendous impact at international level in other sport codes.
Athletics, boxing, football, golf to mention but a few. In tennis, you cannot even count the players that have qualified for the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam on the fingers of one hand.
Performances of African players at these major events are extremely below par.
This can be attributed to a number of factors, the main ones being a shortage of qualified coaches and necessary infrastructure throughout Africa.
To produce a world-class tennis player, it is a precondition and an imperative that you have a world-class coach.
Do we have world-class tennis coaches in Africa, who are really passionate about the game?
It is really a chicken and egg conundrum. It would be great if CAT could identify suitably qualified coaches throughout the continent, who can be sent on attachments at various tennis academies in the world to learn the art and science of producing world-class players.
Eastern Europe, by comparison, is a hotbed of tennis talent. It seems there is a conveyor belt churning out hordes of talented players, who are highly ranked by ITF in both the men and women’s categories.
Africa needs to learn from Eastern Europe’s stranglehold on the game of tennis. Maybe in 10-15 years’ time, we could see an African playing at least in the quarter or semi-final stages.
Then we can be convinced that Africans can go all the way. This success that CAT and its member countries should deliver is not rocket science but a product of deliberate sport development planning and programme implementation.
There is no doubt that Africans, given an opportunity and sound preparation, can compete with and beat the very best in world sport.
The responsibility for creating a conducive environment lies squarely on the shoulders of the CAT and its member countries.
The era of Africans participating and not competing in major tennis events should be confined into the dustbin of history.
CAT, supported, of course, by the governments, national Olympic committees and corporate sponsors can undertake a number of improvement initiatives and interventions.
The time might be ripe to establish regional academies and/or centres of tennis excellence in Africa.
Regular competitions amongst the academies and exposure to international competitions could help Africans to develop the necessary skills and tenacity required for success in Grand Slams.
Wallowing in self-pity and continuously lamenting the shortage of financial resources and facilities is not going to help African tennis authorities.
As some wise elders have said, “If you think education is expensive. Try ignorance”.
African tennis authorities have no excuse but to facilitate the quantum leap forward in the development of the game on the continent.
Yes, ITF can help but they cannot think and do everything for the African continent.
It is really time for the African tennis authorities to stand up and be counted.
The time for awakening the African giant in the world of tennis is now! It is, indeed, now or never!