The Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre, where the Open is being played, offers training to young tennis stars. They are watching the pros in action.
LEBOHANG Mokgoatsi, a 15-year-old from Jabavu, used to spend most of his time in the streets where he was exposed to stealing and smoking. But thanks to the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre at Soweto, he practises tennis after school instead.
Oupa and LebohangDevelopment coach Oupa Nthuping and Lebohang MokgoatsiMokgoatsi lives a street from the centre; he is one of the kids who have been attending coaching clinics staffed by professional players since the Soweto Open began in 2009.
“Training at the centre has helped me avoid doing all bad things that I was exposed to while I used to spend most of my time in the streets. The pressure was too much as some friends would sometimes persuade us to go steal and smoke,” said Mokgoatsi.
Mokgoatsi, whose role model is Novak Djokovic, a Serbian player, is a grade nine learner from Tlhatlhogang Senior Secondary School in Jabavu.
“When I grow up I want to be a professional tennis player just like Djokovic and play in big tournaments like the Soweto Open.”
According to Gavin Crookes, the tournament director of the Soweto Open, slowly but surely, people from Soweto are getting used to this sport, because the numbers of spectators have increased over the past two years.
In 2010 the number of spectators was around 2 500 for the entire tournament. This year it has already attracted almost 2 000 people from Monday to Thursday – and there are two more days to go.
“The community of Soweto becomes part of this tournament, because we involve them in the schedule such as ball watchers. In 2009 only 20 percent of ball watchers were from Soweto, but this year all of them are from Soweto,” said Crookes.
Arthur Ashe is home to one of 14 development hubs in South Africa where over 850 children from the age of six to 12 are being trained with equipment that is designed for them.
The Soweto Open is sponsored by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
A coaching sessionA coaching session at Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre (Photo: Reg Caldecott)“ATP and ITF are very happy with the way the event has been handled and they want to extend the contract; however that will depend on the City of Joburg. If it will provide the funds for the event, the decisions will be taken after the election on 18 May,” said Crookes.
“This event will provide Joburg with publicity as it is a world class African city. Also it helps in promoting tennis as a sport, both in the city as well as in the country.”
Oupa Nthuping is a development coach at the centre, employed by the South African Tennis Association. “We recruit children from schools and crèches to teach them the basics of tennis.”
“During school hours, we coach school leavers and unemployed people just to keep them out of the street and keep them busy, which gives them less time to think about corruption and crime.”
The popular sport in Soweto is mostly soccer, and there is some interest in cricket.
“Tennis does not have popularity among blacks; however, the Soweto Open has played a role in making Sowetans show appreciation and a better understanding of the sport,” said Nthuping.
Most people, even young stars, have an idea of how it works, as well as counting the scores.
Role model: one of the professional players shows a youngster how its doneRole model: One of the professional players shows a youngster how its done (Photo: Reg Caldecott)Within Soweto, there is a squad that participates in tournaments around South Africa. Young stars from primary schools in Jabavu know international players and they rush to the centre to watch them after school.
Nthuping’s parents were both tennis players; they met at a tennis tournament. He grew up playing tennis, despite being made a joke by his friends who said he was playing a girls’ sport. That did not discourage him and he has won a lot of titles locally as well as internationally.
In 1986, after being retrenched at the mines, he started a development centre in Protea Glen, where he was teaching children tennis. He was sponsored by local businesses; “amazingly even spaza shops use to sponsor me to show appreciation for getting kids out of the streets”, said Nthuping.
The Soweto Open continues through Saturday. Admission is free.
Training at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre is offered from 2.30pm till sunset Monday to Friday and 9am to 2pm on Saturday.
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