PRETORIA, September 15, 2020 (Tennis South Africa Press Release)
The Tennis South Africa (TSA) Director of Tennis, Jeff Coetzee, is currently in Rome preparing his Colombian doubles pair, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia ATP Masters 1000 event. Tennis South Africa caught up with Coetzee over this past weekend for an update on all things tennis.
Tennis South Africa: Hi Jeff, this year’s US Open has been unique in so many ways, during this time of COVID-19. What was it like to be part of the event and the bio-bubble?
“It was obviously very different to previous years. Nobody knew what to expect, also there were so many health protocols to adjust to. The lack of crowd and atmosphere was also difficult, as you always want to showcase your talents in front of a crowd. Some of the top players not being there also felt strange, but I thought the USTA did a great job to keep up safe.”
You are currently in Rome, preparing your players for the Italian Open – what has the jump been like from hardcourts (in the US) to clay in Italy?
“This was always going to be the challenge. Some people need time to adjust. We have the advantage of losing early on hard court and some have had more time to adapt on clay, but we need matches to get the confidence going.”
Has anything surprised you about the return of professional tennis in the current pandemic?
“We trust the ATP/ITF to make the right decisions. It was very tricky because we never really knew when we were going to restart. Obviously travelling in the pandemic has been very challenging.”
You seem to have been busy during lockdown in your role as TSA Director of Tennis – please tell us more about what you have focused on?
“My main focus was to keep our local coaches motivated and in touch with the game. I also spent a lot of time engaging with our top junior players and their parents. I also arranged many zoom workshops for our coaches and players with some international and local tennis legends – including: Martina Navratilova, Ivan Lendl, Billie Jean King, Kevin Curren, Wayne Ferreira, Goran Ivanišević and Kevin Anderson. Ordinarily we would struggle to secure these types of names, but thanks to the global lockdown we were able to provide a unique platform for our coaches and players to interact with some of the most famous names in tennis. Finally – being in lockdown allowed me time to think about the direction I need to take as Director of Tennis and how to best achieve my aims and objectives for the role.”
I would assume COVID-19 has delayed a lot of your TSA plans in 2020?
“Yes, it has been a major set back for TSA, the country and the world. The world has changed, potentially for ever, due to the virus. However as mentioned above I have tried to use the lockdown as best I can – in terms of communication and engagement.”
How are you finding the role of TSA Director of Tennis? Has anything surprised you about the role or working more closely with TSA?
“I always knew that making the decision was going to be a challenge, but I have been excited by this particular challenge. From a TSA perspective a lot of hard work happens behind the scenes that most people don’t even realise is happening. Meanwhile, a big focus for me has been about capitalising on my international contacts, by engaging with them and securing their support. This has enabled me to link TSA with some leading academies around the world – including the Rafa Nadal Academy – which will be of benefit to our next generation of young stars.”
Speaking of which, there was recently some interesting media coverage about your plans for TSA to partner with academies in Europe. Please can you tell us more about this, and if you have plans for partnerships elsewhere in the world?
“Along with the Nadal Academy, we are also looking to do the same with Magnus Norman’s Good to Great Academy in Sweden and the Waske Academy in Germany. I have also started forming partnerships with various tennis Federations around the world and would also like to form some academy partnerships in the United States. There are many ex-SA players living in the USA, operating academies, and many are keen to assist us. This is an opportunity for the future.”
One of your stated objectives, when you commenced the Director of Tennis role, was to strengthen communication and engagement with the many ex-SA players who live in other countries. How has this progressed?
“I have started engaging with many ex-players and there are many more I still need to speak to. Many have offered their support and we are keen to co-operate with them, in future, for the good of our tennis.”
How would you describe the state of tennis in SA, as we grapple with COVID-19?
“All sport in South Africa has been hugely affected by COVID-19. However, tennis was lucky to return to play before many sporting codes. TSA was also largely supported by its sponsors and members during the lockdown and this has helped to see tennis resume fairly smoothly. I am told that TSA has seen a growth in participation since the return – which is encouraging.”
The return of junior tournaments in South Africa commenced with UTR events, as opposed to traditional ranking events. Why was this and what benefit does UTR bring to SA tennis?
“UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) is a world rating system that provides a valuation of your skill level based on your actual performance. Tennis in our country has always focused exclusively on a ranking system. I really like UTR because many countries are now using it and it enables you to earn a global rating that can be compared to a player in another country. Many United States Colleges have started using UTR for player recruitment purposes, so it will be of increasing benefit to our young players who want to pursue the College pathway.”
The Growthpoint Junior Nationals are, due to COVID-19, rescheduled for later this year with much smaller draw sizes. Your thoughts on this?
“We are seeing from the increase in tournament entries, since tennis returned, that junior players have been hungry to return to tournament play. The Growthpoint Junior Nationals is always the highlight of our local junior calendar and I believe it was important for TSA to try and host it this year. It would have been a real shame if it had to be cancelled in 2020. It is great to see TSA and Growthpoint bringing the cream of SA junior tennis together again to compete against each other.”