Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 12th 2013 Contents A62
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, September 12, 2013
JOHANNESBURG --- The gold paint on the winners
boards at the Ellis Park tennis stadium in Johannesburg
sparkles with names of the greats: Rod Laver, Jimmy
Connors, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and many
more. Yet an air of neglect cloaks the clubhouse, where
dust coats the counter and booths in "The Tennis Bar,"
its big window overlooking the old center court.
Ellis Park, once the temple of South African tennis,
hosted celebrity-studded stops on the international
circuit, despite intensifying global protests aimed at iso-
lating the white minority rulers of the time. In 1974,
Connors triumphed at the US Open and then beat Arthur
Ashe in a South African final for the second consecutive
Laver, who oversaw the coin toss before Rafael Nadal s
victory over Novak Djokovic in New York on Monday,
won in Johannesburg in 1969 and 1970. Roy Emerson,
whose record of 12 major singles wins was overtaken
by Nadal at Flushing Meadow, also collected the South
Now the 17-court complex at Ellis Park, whose name-
sake was a city councilor, hosts weekly junior squads
and league matches, and an international wheelchair
tournament. But it is often empty. Its decline mirrors
the challenges that tennis faces in South Africa, a founding
member of the International Lawn Tennis Federation in
1913 that struggled with racial segregation and interna-
tional political pressure under apartheid, then saw atten-
tion and funding shift to other sports under democratic
"She s a very sad, old lady," Keith Brebnor, a South
African former tennis player and tournament director,
said of dilapidated Ellis Park (though the hard courts
were resurfaced two years ago).
The once-prestigious South African Open is now
defunct, despite recent attempts to revive it. A complex
named after Ashe in the Soweto area of Johannesburg
hosts a lower-tier tournament for professionals. Venus
and Serena Williams played an exhibition match at Ellis
Park last year. Roger Federer, whose mother was born
in South Africa, has visited the country to help children
through his foundation. But soccer far exceeds the pop-
ularity of tennis, and rugby, cricket and golf, once the
exclusive purview of whites, are also gaining crossover
appeal in this country of more than 50 million.
Today, the Ellis Park facility is ringed by poor urban
neighbourhoods, fallout from the social transformation
decades ago when apartheid crumbled and "whites-
only" areas were dismantled, prompting blacks to move
into the inner city. Crime increased, and there have been
break-ins at the Ellis Park tennis complex over the years,
though some longtime visitors say the neighbourhood s
reputation is worse than the reality.
"A lot of people have always said to us, This park is
in the wrong part of town, " said Wendy Addison, a
manager with the provincial tennis association. She said
she is continually arranging with plumbers and electricians
to patch things up at the municipal complex, which she
said still has a "wonderful vibe."
The place used to be a quarry and a garbage dump.
Tennis got started there in an era when women wore
billowing skirts on court. The key to its later success,
particularly when tennis was transitioning from amateur
to professional status, was the involvement of South
African Breweries and other big sponsors as well as the
luring of celebrities such as actor Charlton Heston, who
handed over a winner s check in 1975.
African-American tennis star Arthur Ashe was a
prominent opponent of apartheid but went to South
Africa to see things for himself. He gave a tennis clinic
in Soweto and had mixed success in seeking to ensure
there was no segregated seating during his matches at
Ellis Park, according to Arthur Ashe: A Biography by
author Richard Steins.
Mark Mathabane was a young black player from
Alexandra township who was mesmerised when he saw
Ashe s self-assurance --- "not dropping his eyes, not
groveling" --- while talking to white journalists after
training at Ellis Park.
Mathabane was helped by another American star,
Stan Smith, to travel to the United States, where he
played college tennis, escaping apartheid as well as
possible reprisals from activists who saw him as a col-
laborator for participating in South African tournaments.
He later wrote an autobiography about his journey called
Kaffir Boy, using a derogatory term for blacks.
"Tennis was literally my passport to freedom," he said,
in a phone interview from his home in Portland, Oregon.
"Ellis Park was a prominent and decisive place where
I obtained the beginnings of that passport because if I
hadn t gone to Ellis Park, I probably wouldn t be alive
He visited Ellis Park last year for the first time in
decades, remembering where he chatted about poetry
with Guillermo Vilas, an avid writer as well as a champion
Today the world No 21 Kevin Anderson is the top-
ranked South African man in the world, and No 75
Chanelle Scheepers is the top South African woman.
Black-and-white photographs at Ellis Park show inter-
national champions such as Pancho Gonzales and Don
Budge, but also plenty of local talent. In an earlier gen-
eration, South African Frew McMillan won five doubles
majors with former tennis hall of famer Bob Hewitt,
who today faces charges in South Africa of sexual crimes
against minors in cases dating back decades.
South Africa has a new champion, though. On Tuesday,
President Jacob Zuma congratulated Lucas Sithole, who
won a singles title in wheelchair tennis at the US Open
this weekend. In April, Sithole narrowly lost in a final
at Ellis Park.
"We still consider it to be the home of tennis," said
Mike Dunk, a spokesman for the provincial tennis asso-
ciation. "We would like nothing better than to see tennis
return there in all its glory."
TASHKENT --- Top-seeded
Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia
advanced to the quarterfinals of
the Tashkent Open by beating
Misaki Doi of Japan 6-2, 7-5 yes-
The 58th-ranked Jovanovski was
already having a good year on court,
having made at least the second
round in all four Grand Slam tour-
naments --- including a fourth-
round appearance at the Australian
Third-seeded Yvonne Meusburg-
er of Austria, fifth-seeded Alexan-
dra Cadantu of Romania, and sev-
enth-seeded Galina Voskoboeva of
Kazakhstan also advanced. Sixth-
seeded Irina-Camelia Begu of
Romania lost to Maria-Teresa
Torro-Flor of Spain 6-1, 7-5.
Top-seeded Jovanovski advances at Tashkent Open
Heyday past, South African
tennis centre struggles
Part of the honours board at the Ellis Park tennis
club in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday. Ellis Park
was once the temple of South African tennis under
white minority rule, with a celebrity-studded list of
players on the international circuit, but now it
struggles for funding and the once thriving tennis
centre now only echoes with the sound of past
glories. AP PHOTO
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