IT’S been 10 years since Wayne Black retired from professional tennis. For a player from Zimbabwe, two Grand Slam double titles are extremely good returns. Add to that, 16 doubles titles on the Association of Tennis Professionals tour.
with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
A legend in the local game after he teamed up with his elder brother Byron, Wayne — who earned over $3,3 million during his illustrious career — thrust Zimbabwe on to the world map, among the elite of Davis Cup tennis in the late 1990s.
Now a businessman based in Harare, Black, who was nicknamed Shumba during his playing days, looks back with pride at his achievements as a tennis player. failure in the singles format, however, left him bitterly disappointed.
“I really wish I had had a better singles career. I do not think I reached my potential in that format and I know I could have done a bit better. I was not as mentally strong on the singles court and I have some regrets every time I think about that,” Wayne said in an exclusive interview with Standardsport at his Chisipite offices.
Turning pro in 1994 at the age of 21, Wayne achieved his highest singles world ranking of 69 in 1998.
His best ever run in Grand Slam singles was the fourth round exit at the Australian Open in 1999 and his struggles in the singles slowly converted him into a doubles specialist, where success was prominent going into the new millennium.
“I never won top tournaments in singles. I was a lot better doubles player and just found it easier playing with someone on the court. For doubles, you can play until you are older and you also mature mentally as you grow older, whereas in singles you have to keep a level of fitness and intensity. It is very demanding to play singles,” said the former Zimbabwe Davis Cup ace.
In 1999 Wayne partnered Sandon Stolle to three doubles triumphs on the ATP tour namely: the Dubai Open, The Indian Wells and Miami Open.
Barely a year later, Wayne was a losing finalist in Melbourne at the Australian Open alongside native Andrew Kratzmann and it was no surprise when he finally landed the big one at the US Open, partnering countryman Kevin Ullyett in October 2001.
His pairing with Ullyett flourished as the two went on to win six titles on the ATP tour in 2002 alone, with the last Grand Slam coming at the Australian Open in 2005.
However, according to Wayne, all those wins on the circuit were nothing compared to the fairy-tale success they achieved for the country along with Byron and Ulyett, taking the team to the elite Davis Cup World Group.
“It was great to play in the Davis Cup for Zimbabwe. It was one of my biggest dream to win the Davis Cup. I enjoyed those weeks very much. Zimbabwe had not done much in tennis and I was motivated to get us up there.
“We always regret those losses, but we are very happy with what we did. we wish we had gone on longer or at least left some people to replace us to keep Zimbabwe up there,” he said.
“Those were the best days of my life — filled with emotions and the ups and downs. We were overjoyed one minute and crying the next, it was brilliant and I am very happy with the memories I made playing for my country in the Davis Cup.”
His journey in tennis is one which he did not choose himself. His father, the late Don Black, initiated him from the time he was just a toddler.
“It all started with my dad; he was heavily passionate about the game. He was really crazy about the game he played at Wimbledon and was a pretty impressive player himself, self-taught and he wanted us to go further than he did,” Wayne Black clarified.
“That’s why he pushed us from when we could barely walk. It was hard work. We had to wake up at 5 O’clock every morning, play tennis for an hour before we went to school. we came home to play tennis between 3 and 4pm again before we did homework, then played again from 5-6pm. Three hours [of play] every day.”
“It was easier to have an older brother doing it in front of you. When you see him do well and win, its easier to follow. He [Byron] set a good example. our dad developed us, nobody else. He played tennis with us every day throughout the year whether it was Christmas or a birthday, even if it was raining, he would make sure we played tennis,” said the former St John’s College student.
As a 16-year-old, Wayne left St John’s College in the early 90s to go and do high school in Texas, US before proceeding to University of California, where he enrolled for a business degree, but never got to finish the course.
While his siblings Byron and Cara chose to settle in other countries following their own illustrious tennis careers, Wayne opted to settle in Zimbabwe along with his Kazakhstan-born wife Irina Selyutina and two children, Joseph (10) and Brooke (8).
Irina briefly played on the WTA tour after partnering Cara to the Wimbledon Junior doubles title in 1997.
“I have always loved this place [Zimbabwe]. I love the fishing in Kariba, the climate here, the people, pretty much everything except the economy. I tried living in England for one year, but I can’t stand the cold. It’s the best place to raise a family. you can go out and play tennis the whole day,” he said.
Part of the plan is that his children, who were both born in London, can trace their father’s footsteps to become top tennis players coming from Zimbabwe.
“They [the children] don’t love the game but they don’t hate it either. it’s not too much of a struggle to get them out there, but I think they will be tennis players. What I am trying to do is to get them to the US to attain degrees and they will decide where they want to go,” Wayne said.
“I think my dad would be disappointed because I am not pushing them as much as my dad pushed us, but they play an hour every day and they are only eight and 10, so we will increase the practice time in a year or two. It’s all about the time you put in, not about how talented you are,” he added.
The Black family undoubtedly put Zimbabwe tennis on the world map and another family, the Lock brothers Benjamin and Courtney, are beginning to bud.
Wayne shares his opinion on the Locks.
“They are fantastic boys, highly motivated, patriotic kids and their tennis is good. I see the potential to do as well as we did and they are big boys, not like us; we were short so they have an advantage,” he said.
In the meantime, Wayne — who briefly made a comeback last year — runs a guest lodge in Mandara, a job which he says gives him a chance to spend more time with his family.
Although he has interest in contributing to the local game, he says for now he would rather give his young children first priority.