SA tennis prodigy's career at crossroads
16 June 2010, 05:20
The career of 17-year-old South African prodigy Chanel Simmonds, who is widely considered the most promising tennis player produced in the country in more than a decade, is tottering at the crossroads - and her coach, Earl Grainger, says the budding Kempton Park left-hander is faced with the choice of leaving the country or allowing her talent to stagnate into increasing oblivion.
"The problem," according to Grainger, himself a one-time, respected ATP circuit participant, "is the lamentably blasé attitude towards tennis in South Africa generally and, in this instance, the inexplicable disinterest of all and sundry to sponsor a talent the likes of which has not emerged in South Africa since the turn of the century.”
Grainger points out that Simmonds's world ranking has improved dramatically this year from little better than the 1000-mark to a current 363rd; she beat a 77th-ranked player in the recent Soweto Open and there is a dire need for her to now "spread her wings" and undertake a comprehensive overseas tournament campaign to further enhance her progress in the only way possible - by competing against some of the best players in the world.
"The trouble," said Grainger, "is that none of the prospective sponsors I have approached to launch such a campaign have shown the slightest interest in helping - and this includes numerous major companies and organisations who are always boasting about how they have the welfare of South African sport at heart.”
"You would be amazed," added Grainger, "if I listed the names of these organisations and the response I have received after approaching them. The welfare of South African sport? I am now convinced all they are truly interested in when they plough many into sporting activities is what they can get out of it."
Grainger said he had received a token grant from the South African Tennis Association to help Simmonds launch an international campaign, but this was hardly enough to see her through a couple of tournaments.
"We are grateful for this," he added, "because Sata's finances do not currently allow them to be more generous, but it is simply inadequate and will make little difference to Chanel's progress."
Grainger pointed out that South Africa's Chani Scheepers, who hit the headlines by reaching the fourth round of the French Open and is now ranked 77th in the world, had recently revealed she was pondering over whether to settle permanently in the United States.
She is already based in Houston where former South African top-rated world doubles player, Lisle Huber, resides and is a member of the United States Fed Cup team.
"I don't know what is going to happen to Chanel," says Grainger.
"It seems she will either have to follow a similar route and leave her family ties in South Africa behind - or end up as an exceptional talent that has sadly gone to waste."