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#ExtraTime with TSA Director of Tennis Jeff Coetzee

In the latest instalment of Extra Time, we take a deeper look into tennis in South Africa. We speak to former SA doubles star Jeff Coetzee who has recently been appointed Director of Tennis by Tennis South Africa.

The cream of South African tennis, Raven Klaasen, Ruan Roelofse, Jeff Coetzee (captain), Kevin Anderson, Lloyd Harris and Kholo Montsi. Picture: Tennis South Africa

CAPE TOWN - South Africa has managed to produce some world-class talent over the years like Wayne Ferreira, Amanda Coetzer, Johan Kriek and more recently Kevin Anderson, Raven Klaasen and Lloyd Harris. But in such a sports-mad country, is that enough?

Jeff Coetzee, a former SA doubles player and Davis Cup stalwart, is asking the country and its investors to do more. Coetzee, who is currently the coach of the world number one doubles pair, has also been appointed Tennis South Africa’s first-ever Director of Tennis.

The 42-year-old believes that with the contacts he has built up worldwide he can help rebuild tennis in SA. "I've been working with my two guys from Colombia for the last six years. I just felt like I owe something to South Africa, to give back something and that's what I was trying to do. Once I got the offer, I just basically started right away," Coetzee said.

Coetzee, who is on the road most of the year as a professional tennis coach, is back home at the moment hosting virtual meetings with coaches, former players and potential investors daily during the lockdown period, to help identify problem areas in the federation and community. "I can only do so much. So, I want to get ideas from the coaches. They need to be my eyes and ears. I have maybe one thing that I want to change that I've seen, but now you need to understand that coming from South Africa, a third world country, compared to the US who has a development budget of $80 million, how do you compare with that? You know, we’re not even close to that," Coetzee told EWN Sport.

Coetzee said that the lack of money aside, one problem that has been identified is that the tennis community is not working as one, which is making it tough to grow the sport on all fronts. "There’s one common factor that we all have to work together. It's not about one coach, it's not about individuals; we all need to get together and that's not been happening in Tennis South Africa. The coaches feel like no, this one will poach my player, this one will coach his player. And that's not the case. We need to set a sort of a code of conduct if you want to be part of the TSA affiliated academies."

The former doubles star, who has won six ATP Tour doubles titles, went on to say one of his main goals is to bring more tournaments to the country and in order to attract sponsors, having top-ranked players like Anderson, Harris and Klaasen helps. "Our CEO (Richard Glover) has really done an absolutely fantastic job, bringing in sponsors and just getting those sponsors to believe we can do it because we definitely have the talent. And it's a matter of now working on the structure. And this is where I come in, to be able to get us a structure because there hasn’t been a structure," he said.

Coetzee has a very clear idea of what he wants to achieve in the next couple of years and it involves some big investments from sponsors and major stakeholders. "So the idea is in the next five years to get a lot of foreigners back, and my idea is so that when you do go to college, you have an option to do so in June, July. Play some tournaments and you can come back to South Africa. And right now with the International Tennis Federation, you are allowed to have more tournaments. Before you were only allowed to have ‘X’ amount. Now, if you have the money, you can go for it."

In terms of Coetzee’s career, he started playing with his siblings in their backyard when he was very young. He hated losing to them, but each year he managed to improve so much, in fact, he started entering junior tournaments. "I was basically in the backyard, making my own racket out of wood and two poles. And I had orange bags as a net and then we played. I'm from a family of eight and I lost a lot as you can imagine and I hated it. It pushed me, though and eventually, I got good enough. I started beating them slowly, so we went to play tournaments. Back then I wasn't allowed to play because of apartheid. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know why. I thought because my surname is ‘Coetzee’, it would be okay. But they said I was a non-white so I couldn’t play."

Eventually, Coetzee got a chance to play a tournament in Cape Town, which he ended up winning and from there he was chosen by TSA to join the team on what they called a ‘Super Circuit’. "We travelled through Durban, PE, East London and then ended in Cape Town. I managed to play all four tournaments and they said ‘That's it. This talent we need to get to Joburg.’ So, I left home at 12 without my family for tennis."

Over a 16-year professional tennis career, Coetzee says his proudest moment was representing SA at the 2008 Olympic Games. “Walking into the stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics representing South Africa, wearing the South African colours stands out for me. And obviously the Davis Cup. Besides making the semifinals at Grand Slams and stuff I think that, to me, is more important because I'm so passionate about South Africa. And it was just good. I had goosebumps as I was walking out and it's just so nice to have that moment.”

In terms of the future of his coaching career, for now, Coetzee is happy with his position with the Colombian doubles pair, but he says if he ever gets an offer to coach a South African on the circuit he will gladly accept.

“If it comes to that, I would rather represent my country. No offence to them,” Coetzee said. “That's why I told them for the Davis Cup too. In the beginning, when I started with them, they wanted me to join with their (Colombia) Davis Cup team and I said I prefer not to. I’m just so passionate about my country that I would represent my country first,” he said.

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