No dilly in this Dally
Jon Wertheim, SI.com
PARIS -- Justine Henin-Hardenne didn't dally in her third-round French Open match Friday, blitzing Dally Randriantefy, 6-1, 6-1, in roughly the amount of time it takes to say "Randriantefy." Fifteen minutes after the match, Randriantefy was still shaking her head, smiling at how badly she was outclassed. "I need to work on a lot of things -- actually, everything," she said. "But even then I don't know if I'll ever get to that level."
Still, it was hard for Randriantefy to be too upset about her tournament. She reached the third round, equaling her best showing at a Grand Slam event; she beat Alexandra Stevenson -- granted, no one's clay-court expert, but a seed nonetheless; she'll improve on her ranking, which was No. 83 entering the French Open; and most important, by far, she banked roughly $35,000. While the majority of players would be happy with that kind of payday for a week's worth, it's particularly meaningful to Randriantefy. A native of Madagascar, Randriantefy estimates that the average salary for a worker in her country is $60 a month. Her mother, Olga, a professor of French literature, makes roughly $100 a month, and her father, Max, a sports educator, earns about the same.
In other words, Randriantefy made more this week for three matches of tennis than her parents are likely to take home in 25 years of teaching. "I do think about this," she said, smiling. "It's strange to me, but it makes me happy I chose tennis."
The same voodoo economics, however, almost derailed her career. As a promising junior, she was able to compete internationally mostly by dint of corporate sponsorships arranged for her in Madagascar. Her first WTA ranking came in 1993 at age 16, and by 1996 she was a top-100 player, the first non-white African player ever to achieve that distinction. Her game, however, went into a tailspin the following year, and as the losses mounted, the money began to run dry.
Randriantefy was stuck; she couldn't exactly hit Dad up for a $10,000 travel loan. This, of course, is a problem that often affects players from economically disadvantaged countries. Paradorn Srichaphan has questioned how many more Thai players would be on the circuit if the economic playing field was more level. As it stands, the cost of a few plane tickets to international junior events can represent a huge chunk of a family's annual income.
Financially strapped, Randriantefy left the tour in 1998, trying to regroup and recoup by playing what she calls "exhibitions and money tournaments" (translation: She spent a lot of time in France playing small ITF events where she could lodge for free and incur minimal travel costs). She also competed for a local Parisian professional team that paid her a salary and covered her training.
As her bank book became a bit more bloated, Randriantefy returned to the WTA Tour, and her ranking has improved each of the past four years. "Now I'm at the point where I can play in all four Grand Slams," said Randriantefy, who will be ranked around No. 70 when the new rankings are released. "That's pretty much enough money to get me through the year."
While she won't overpower anyone, Randriantefy hits solidly off both sides, returns well and plays with the same joie de vivre that informs her personality on the court. She's 26, and there's no reason why she can't be a top-50 to top-80 player for several more years.
When she's done with tennis, Randriantefy intends to return to her home country and, with any luck, inspire other talented juniors. She's quick to note that her younger siblings, Natasha and Tatum, both have potential. "The Williams sisters are good for tennis all over the world, but for Africa especially,"
she says. "And maybe I also have shown the way."
Very good article by Jon and I hope that Dally continues to improve on the tour and inspires more players in her country and around the world as well.