EVER since he started playing improvised tennis, hitting the ball over the tobacco bales as well as the barn walls for practice at their Macheke farm at the age of six back in the early 1960s, Martin Lock knew that he could contribute something to Zimbabwean tennis.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
And after eventually captaining the junior national team, representing Zimbabwe in the Davis Cup and winning the Zimbabwe Open, Lock now sits at the helm of the sport in the country.
Lock was elected Tennis Zimbabwe (TZ) president three months ago after his predecessor Regis Bhunu decided not to seek re-election at a special general meeting in Harare.
It has been a natural progression for a man who started playing tennis back in the 1960s to be where he is now.
Standardsport caught up with the TZ president as he went down memory lane on his tennis journey.
“We didn’t have a tennis court and we would practise in the tobacco barn hitting the ball against the wall and hitting the ball over the tobacco bales. My parents used to play at Mucheke Country Club and they would sometimes take us with them. It was a sport that came easily to me and I felt I could do something for myself and my country,” Lock said.
Lock vividly remembers his first competitive match in the Mashonaland Open competition as an under-10, coming from the farm, right up to the time he won the Triple Crown at the same event three years later.
“I was beaten 6-0 6-0 in the very first tournament I played and it was a reality check. I was now determined to do better and I realised I had to take the game more seriously.
“My breakthrough came when I was under 13 [years old] and I won the Triple Crown, winning the singles, doubles and mixed doubles for the Mashonaland Championships Open in 1974,” he recollected.
As a result, he was selected for the national team and went to the South African circuit as well as the Sugar Circuit, a series of five events which used to be played in South Africa over December and January in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
He eventually captained the Zimbabwe junior team in 1977 before getting a scholarship at Morehead State University in Kentucky.
Because be started university late and finished late, Lock decided not to turn professional but came back to Zimbabwe and started working while playing tennis.
Advanced in age, Lock found himself playing against a talented young player who happened to be Byron Black in the late 80s.
“I had more to do with Byron Black than Wayne Black. I remember one of my first tournaments when I came back from the US where I had to play Byron in the semifinals. I lost in the first set but I eventually beat him in three sets. He was about 17 and the in the following year’s tournament he beat me and from then on I never beat him again,” Lock said.
Lock, then known as the “old war horse” having come out of retirement, won the Zimbabwe Open in 1993 at the age of 34, the same year his oldest son Benjamin was born.
Fascinatingly, 17 years later Benjamin also won the same crown in 2010.
His two sons Benjamin and Courtney are also playing Davis Cup tennis for the country, while the former is already playing on the professional circuit.
“I have so much gratitude and thankfulness in my heart and warm appreciation to see my sons playing for the country. When my boys started playing in the tour and Davis Cup, I gave them each a Zimbabwean flag and I told them to carry it wherever they go,” Lock revealed.
After nine years in the TZ committee, Lock was eventually elevated from vice-president to president of the association.
Early in his tenure as president, Lock is confident that Zimbabwe tennis is headed in the right direction.
“I think we are a young tennis-playing nation because after Byron and Wayne Black we lost a bit of talent. Now we have Takanyi Garanganga, Benjamin and Courtney and Tadiwa Chinamo; that’s a very young team and for the next 10 years we are going to be very competitive in the Davis Cup,” he said.
Sadly, Zimbabwe was relegated from the Davis Cup Euro/Africa Zone Group II last year and is back in the less fashionable Africa Zone Group III.
“I really believe that better days are ahead for TZ. Our players on the professional circuit are getting better all the time and I am really excited.
“We had two years in the Euro/Africa Zone and I think we did exceptionally well. To be back in the Africa Zone is no disgrace. I am very confident that we will be one of the two going back to Europe next year,” he said.
As TZ president, Lock wants to make sure tennis is attractive in order to get more and more talent coming into the game while ensuring sponsors chip in to help develop the sport.
Lock also believes that the centralisation of sport to main centres, predominantly Harare and Bulawayo, continues to threaten the game, hence the need to develop the sport in Gweru, Mutare, Chinhoyi, Masvingo and all towns.