WAYNE Black has become the latest, perhaps the unlikeliest so far of Zimbabwe’s former international sports stars to return home to start a new life and pass on his knowledge. Â
The former Zimbabwe tennis star, now 35, arrived in Harare last week with his Kazakhstan-born wife Irina and two children, Joseph (3) and Brooke (1), both born in London where Black had been coaching since retiring from the doubles circuit in 2005.
“Living in London is very hard,” Black tells IndependentSport. “It’s very expensive and very cold. To raise a family (there) is not easy. So we decided to come home and start a new life, to get the children on the tennis courts here. I love it here…nice weather, peaceful.”
Having grown up in a tennis family with his late father Don and mother Velia heavily involved in the development of his older brother Byron, sister Cara and himself, Wayne has a burning desire to foster the Black tennis dynasty.
His wife, neÃ© Irina Selyutina, briefly played on the WTA tour after partnering Cara to the Wimbledon Junior doubles title in 1997.
Now he wants his two boys to have the same tennis upbringing as his own at his parents’ spacious Mandara home, which has attractive grass courts.
“It’s a good life. You get to see the world. You get good education, if you are lucky you even get a free university degree in the States. It keeps them disciplined… out of mischief.”
With compatriot Kevin Ullyett, Black won two men’s doubles titles, the US Open in 2001 and Australian Open in 2005.
They were constantly number one in the world, finishing in the top five for five seasons. He also won two Grand Slam mixed doubles with sister Cara.
Of all his achievements on the professional circuit, the icing on the cake, he says, was the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team’s fairytale path to the elite World Group over a decade ago.
“Ja, I have a lot of good memories, especially the Davis Cup. I’m pretty happy about it but like everyone I have regrets, a few minor regrets, but mostly I’m very happy with it. I wish I’d been a little more consistent maybe. I wish I had a longer singles career as well. But when you start doing well at doubles you miss qualification for singles… so rankings fall. It’s hard to do both. Very few players do both.”
Zimbabwe tennis can only consider itself very lucky to have a highly dedicated professional of such vast experience returning home and offering his services, particularly at a time when it is battling to build a strong international team again.
“I’m looking to start coaching here. There are lots of options to think of,” he says, admitting that the decision to return home was a hard one due to the economic and political strife in the country.
“We thought about it. We were a little bit concerned. But I thought things were on their way up. Everyone is positive about the country’s future again. I thought it was a good time to come back. It is probably the best time because there are more opportunities at a time like this.”
Tennis Zimbabwe last week named a provisional squad for a Euro/Africa Zone Group IV qualifying tournament next month, quite lowly levels compared to the lofty heights of Black’s era. Black pins his hopes for revival on two of the players in the team.
“I’m aware of Takanyi (Garan’anga) and Mbonisi (Ndimande). They are very good players. They have to take it up on their shoulders and get us off the bottom groups.”
With tennis stardom being a once-in-a-generation thing, how long will it take Zimbabwe to be back at the top again?
“It could take us two years, 15 years or the next generation. But I think its depends on how these two kids develop. I definitely want to get involved here and have a look at the young talent and train them the right way everyday.
“When I started it didn’t take long for us to get into a top group. Maybe because there were some very good players before me…Greg Rodger, Haroon Ismail, Mark Gurr and Byron were also there before me. We were never really far down.
“(But) the talent and interest looks good. I’m in constant touch with Tanya (Chinamo, TZ vice-president). We are going to get together and discuss the way forward.”
And how much did he make on the professional circuit in monetary terms?
“It was pretty good hey! But with the high prices of everything I don’t have enough to retire. I need to look for a job and find something to do and hopefully that would be in tennis.”
He looks forward to the day his former Davis Cup teammates – Byron, Ullyett and Genius Chidzikwe – can also return home.
“It would be nice if they could all come back. Maybe we could start an academy to coach. It’s a fantastic idea. Obviously we need good infrastructure as well… courts, balls and ideally people like us. It’s easier for kids to respect people who have succeeded in the past. They will listen more.”
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO