IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga
WHEN Genius Chidzikwe strides onto the court for Zimbabwe’s Davis Cup opener against Norway’s Jan Andersen this afternoon, it might yet be another loud reminder of the state of tennis in the country &#
8212; whichever way the result goes.
It’s reasonably encouraging that Chidzikwe still has the conviction that Zimbabwe can overcome Norway in the Davis Cup Euro-Africa Zone group two tie at Harare Sports Club.
But it must be sobering that Zimbabweans in general will be content with a “competitive” result — probably a 2-3 loss – if the hard times that have hit the game in the country are to be taken seriously.
For a country that caused a stir when Zimbabwe narrowly lost 2-3 in the quarterfinals to the United States — fielding maestro Andre Agassi — in the 2000 edition of the Davis Cup tournament, no one would have imagined we would be also-rans five years down the line.
Many still fondly recall the heroics of the Black brothers — Byron and Wayne — who became national heroes when they caused upsets against Australia, Great Britain, Austria, Chile and Italy, among others.
Surely things have changed since the legend Byron decided to hang his racquet.
And it hasn’t been any better since Wayne and Kevin Ullyett have made themselves unavailable for different reasons.
It’s a sad story for the sport, a discipline previously a preserve of the white minority.
But it’s even sadder when we explore how we allowed the Black brothers’ success to mask the crisis that Zimbabwe tennis faces today.
Engulfed by the plaudits triggered by the accomplishments of the Blacks, very few cared to ponder whether there would be life after Byron and Wayne.
If anyone cared to look beyond their memorable performances, then certainly no one — including the media — dared to challenge Paul Chingoka to substantiate his claims that Zimbabwe was bursting at the seams with tennis talent.
It’s just too bad Zimbabwe had to rely so much on the Black brothers and to some extent Ullyett over the past decade with no one imagining what would happen if the icons were to retire from the sport due to age.
Today it’s there for all to see that Chingoka, then Tennis Zimbabwe leader, did not mean anything beyond his rhetoric — which probably was only meant to lure sponsors who we are sure now wonder if their money served the purpose it was meant for.
Whenever anyone asked Chingoka on the development of the game at grassroots level, he would quickly silence you with examples of promising talent such as Zibusiso Ncube, Pfungwa Mahefu and Gwinyai Chingoka, to name but a few.
At one time five years ago Chingoka boasted that Zimbabwe had 26 junior players on scholarships in the United States.
It’s a sombre reality that the player who has taken over the mantle from the Blacks, Chidzikwe, takes to the court this weekend ranked number 668 in the world and 21 in Africa, according to the international rankings released this week.
Zimbabwe’s second-best player, Gwinyai Tongoona, is a distant 1 077 on the ATP rankings, which makes him number 40 on the continent.
And Tongoona is already on the wrong side of age at 33.
Dumiso Khumalo, at number 1 523, is the only other Zimbabwean with an ATP ranking. The 24-year-old player is number 74 in Africa.
The situation is even more worrying when we consider that only five youngsters are ranked in the junior boys category.
Sixteen-year-old Takura Happy is Zimbabwe’s best prospect at number 630 in the world, giving him the number 38 spot in Africa.
Taka Garanganga is four places behind Takura in Africa, coming in at umber 696 in the world.
Simba Happy is at 803 in the world and 50 on the continent, followed by fellow 17-year-old Mbonisi Ndimande at 1 150 and 85 respectively.
The only other Zimbabwean recognised in the junior boys category is Terrence Mazungaire, who is ranked 1 532 in the world and 85 in Africa.
If these statistics are anything to go by, Zimbabwe needs truckloads of luck if they are to relive the glory days the Black brothers brought upon the country.
The situation on the women’s side is no better.
Another Black sibling, Cara, who has won several titles especially in the doubles, is the only Zimbabwean on the WTA.
She is ranked 206 in the world and second in Africa, although she is certainly among the best doubles players.
Fadzai Mawisire, at 18, is the best story that Zimbabwe might be waiting to write. She is the top junior girl in Africa, although she is ranked 115 in the world.
Zimbabwe’s second-best junior girl is Mitchell Nyajeka, who is a distant 929 in the world and 43 on the continent.
Robin Williams is third on 1 049 and 55, with Rudo Mahachi following closely on 1 068 and 57.
Prenade Makumborenga and Vimbai Mawisire are tied on 1 199 in the world, although they are 67 and 68 respectively in Africa.
Next is Michelle Williams at 1 266 and 77, while Tanya Gombera is last recognised Zimbabwean junior at 1 792 in the world that makes her 101 on the continent.
In total, Zimbabwe boasts 17 players with international rankings on the ATP, WTA as well as ITF junior boys and girls.
Comparing with other African countries, that’s no mean feat. Only South Africa, with 77 players ranked, is better than Zimbabwe in the southern Africa region.
It might be heartening as well to note that South Africa and Zimbabwe provide 94 of the 120 players ranked in the region.
The whole of Africa has 340 players in all rankings.
But when we look at the standards set by the Black brothers, the reality is that Zimbabwe might never earn those achievements again in a long time to come.
While we enjoyed the exploits of Byron and Wayne for over a decade, Tennis Zimbabwe failed to implement development programmes to bridge the gap between the Blacks and the rest.
If the tennis authorities did attempt anything, we saw nothing beyond the sending of prospective players to colleges in the United States where no one really cared to monitor their progress.
We still wonder where all the youngsters we exported for development have not turned to menial jobs to fend for their families back home.
However, those lucky few were not afforded the opportunity to progress beyond collegiate tennis.
If this was not due to financial constraints, this was because of lack of seriousness on the part of Tennis Zimbabwe.
Parents also have been disappointing in as far as supporting their children is concerned.
The Black family has been successful because of the commitment of their parents — an important lesson for all fathers and mothers.
We should realise that many successful sportspersons start of at very tender ages. It must be hard, if not near impossible, to develop “promising” talent in grown-ups.
It’s a lot that needs to be done if Zimbabwe is to be a force to reckon with again in the world of tennis, but for now it’s enough for Tennis Zimbabwe to regain the confidence of sponsors after allegations of financial embezzlement rocked the association.
Next, or concurrently, would be to implement a proper development programme should not be a problem.
For now we wish the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team the best against Norway.
IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga