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Left to right: Kevin Anderson gained international exposure as a 17-year old in a Tuks Futures Tournament (Photo: Reg Caldecott).
Joubert Klopper, son of Kloppers Sports’ Dirk Klopper, won a tennis bursary to study in the US (Photo: TSA).
Young Kholo Montsi is an inspiration for players from Soweto to Sandton (Photo: TSA).

Q4 2019

Exciting times for the tennis industry

Will the Federer–Nadal match in February inspire a new generation of young tennis players? Tennis South Africa has provided many opportunities for young players wanting to join the ranks of top pros like Kevin Anderson, Lloyd Harris, and Raven Klaasen. Industry experts explain how retailers can benefit from these developments.

It is an understatement to say that the Federer-Nadal/ Bill Gates-Trevor Noah charity exhibition matches in Stellenbosch early next year captured the attention of local tennis fans: even some who were sitting ready to book tickets as it opened, lost out because their computer connections were not fast enough. These exhilarating events will certainly have people talking tennis long after February 8th.

And as another February treat for tennis fans, South African international star Kevin Anderson will play an exhibition match against rising star Lloyd Harris during the final of the BNP Paribas RCS Rising Star Tennis tournament at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in Soweto. This will be Anderson’s first match on home soil after winning the SA Open at Montecasino, Johannesburg, nine years ago.

The Rising Star Tennis programme is aimed at increasing participation and a passion for tennis among young players. It is open to all primary school players nationwide.

“Lloyd is part of an exciting new generation of players who are making a name for themselves on the ATP tour,” commented Anderson. “For me there’s no better way to support a tennis revolution than with a South African sporting showdown.”

International exposure

For years, young South Africans who were dreaming of a career playing tennis, could only get ranking points by travelling overseas. “If you wanted to compete on Tour, your parents have to have a lot of money — if you have no money and no sponsor, you might as well give up, because you can’t get points,” says Eugene Brown, Dunlop sales manager.

“We have been severely disadvantaged by being so far away from international tournaments for so long,” adds Roberto Vaglietti, co-owner of the Baseline Racquets specialist stores in Gauteng. “In Europe and the US they can on a weekly basis play in tournaments that gain them ranking points.”

Tournaments that provide ranking point opportunities for young players are therefore crucial in helping them transition up the international rankings, says Anderson, referring to the Tennis SA (TSA) Tuks International Tournament that was held in October. “The more we can hold, the better, as it exposes our local players to the playing standards of foreign players.”

Tournaments identify local stars

Anderson’s potential was initially spotted at the first international Futures Tournament held at Tuks in 2003. The then 17-year old didn’t win the tournament, but it launched him on the path to become the longest ITF Top 10 ranked South African player and one of a handful to have played in more than one Grand Slam final.

The Curro International Tennis Federation (ITF) U18 tournament in Stellenbosch was the launching pad for Lloyd Harris — another South African ranked in the Top 100, and climbing. For the past seven years it has also offered local youngsters like Joubert Klopper (U18 Junior champion), Khola Montsi (TSA Growthpoint Junior Player of the Year) and Delien Kleinhans (Junior Girls Player of the Year) the chance to gain ranking points.

This year, 225 youngsters from all parts of the world participated in two back-to-back tournaments — about a quarter of the 100 boys and girls entered in the Grade 4 level were from abroad, while about half of the 125 entrants in the Grade 2 tournament were from outside the country.

These two tournaments were a warm-up for the Samaai Junior Open, a junior Grade A tournament in Cape Town, which was won by the 16-year old Montsi from Soweto. Apart from the four Junior Grand Slams, the Samaai carries the highest-ranking points on the ITF Junior Circuit.

Tennis market

At an estimate TSA has doubled tennis participation over the past decade, says Brad Summers of the Wilson distributor in Southern Africa.

There are a lot of positive things happening under the new leadership, agrees Vaglietti.

Although tennis clubs and league tennis around the country are battling, especially on the senior side, the abundance of new tournaments for juniors, schools, clubs and seniors offer plenty of new playing opportunities. “Growthpoint has invested a lot of money in junior tennis and that resulted in junior tennis being in a healthy place,” he says.

“There is also more attention paid to senior tennis with more tournaments and concerted efforts to promote the senior game.

He agrees that a lot more tennis is being played nowadays — which is evident from the higher demand for tennis racket stringing in their stores and also for new footwear. These are consumables that have to be replaced when used a lot.

Sponsor support

These exciting developments are no coincidence. Several people in the industry credit the new energy and focus Richard Glover, the new TSA CEO, brought to new initiatives of the association. These were, in turn, made possible by the contributions of sponsors.

Lotto became the apparel sponsor of TSA for three years in April 2017, supplying playing and practice wear for all high performance teams from U12 to the Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams. The brand also sponsors top ranked local players Anderson and Harris.

The countrywide Wilson series of tournaments for school-age boys and girls made news this year by offering the same prize money for boys and girls. The number of entries from girls were about the same as boys, indicating a growing interest in tennis from girls, says Summers.

Growthpoint’s contribution to the TSA development programmes also make a significant impact: the third Growthpoint Development Centre to nurture young talent was recently opened in Atteridgeville, Tshwane. Supported by Dunlop Sport, the first development centre was opened in Cape Town in 2018 and a second in Soweto earlier this year. The centres work with target schools in their areas to identify and develop talented junior tennis players.

In addition, Growthpoint sponsors tournaments like the Top Guns National Club Championships, the Junior Masters, and #Growthpoint Super 8.

The Soweto development initiative has been fantastic, says Vaglietti, as residents can now see tennis is a sport for everybody. “The Montsi brothers have made huge impacts and will hopefully inspire many more youngsters to take up the game. The game needs inspiration and opportunities to unearth new talent.”

Strings are major sellers

Stringing services and tennis shoes are the main tennis growth areas at retail, says Vaglietti, because they are consumables that have to be replaced.

Summers agrees with him, adding that retailers should make restringing the centre of their stores, with maybe a counter with rackets and coffee stations strategically placed around the stringers. “The stringers can talk to customers if they show an interest in the rackets on display and generate interest in the ranges,” he suggests.

Besides, while customers can buy rackets and balls online, stringing has to be done in-store, he adds.

Stringing, however, requires a high level of expertise and customers want to be assisted by people qualified to customise rackets, cautions Vaglietti, whose stringing team recently received international accreditation (see opposite page). “A lot goes into restringing and it could take many years and a solid understanding of techniques and the way new strings perform before you master the art.”

For example, players don’t realise that tennis elbow issues can sometimes be resolved by restringing a racket, he says. “With a bad string job on a magnificent racket you can still have bad play.”

Balls and rackets

Tennis balls are also good sellers for Dunlop — especially with the growing demand for balls from tournaments, which have become the main consumer market for balls, adds Brown.

Surprisingly, schools are not such big purchasers of tennis balls as one might believe — except the Curro schools, which actively promote tennis as a sport and offer the Curro Junior Tournament, he explains.

Tennis rackets are, sadly, no longer the main sellers in retail stores. Due to the economy, people would rather refurbish their rackets than buy new, says Vaglietti. Racket sales are therefore not benefiting from higher participation numbers.

Another challenge faced by tennis retailers is the many racket brands coming onto the market that are sold directly to players via coaches, says Brown. “People bring in a few rackets from a new brand every month, which they sell out of the boot of a car, denying retailers their margins.” This impacts on the whole industry.

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