Tennis SA confident over Soweto Open future


Tennis South Africa’s chief executive Ian Smith remains confident the Soweto Open will survive another year.

“We’ve got to go and see the minister of sport now and the director general,” Smith said on Sunday. “They were very supportive of us having the tournament this year. They helped us get it back. And the City of Johannesburg will also be involved in our negotiations.”

The tennis tournament was called off in 2012 when the Johannesburg City Council pulled its sponsorship due to financial constraints.

But last week saw the return of the Soweto Open to the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex in Jabavu – where Canada’s Vasek Pospisil was crowned men’s singles champion on Saturday.

Smith said it was now up to the TSA, government and corporate South Africa to ensure the future of the tournament, which was hailed as an unqualified success by the sport’s international governing body, the ATP.

“We’ve got to go to corporate South Africa now to see if they will partner with us going forward. The SABC’s live coverage has given us great mileage and they have also said they want to try and help us going forward.

“I think that, and the great media coverage we’ve had in the last week, will catapult us to the next level and that will get corporate South Africa together with government and the city to put on the event for 2014 and beyond.”

Despite businesses refusing to get involved last year, Smith said he remained confident looking ahead. “I think you’ve always got to be positive. Everybody is struggling to find cash worldwide – and especially in South Africa.

“We’ve got a smallish economy compared and the big sports have all the sponsorship money thrown at them

“But I think with tennis in South Africa being thrown on the platform as it was in the last week and also next week with the ladies event, I’m pretty sure that there will be some corporate South African companies that will come in to partner us.”

He said the men’s tournament had gone extremely well and received exposure in the print media as well as on television and radio. “We’ve had a lot of people in the city, in the shopping malls all talking about it. We’ve had branding down the streets.

“Overall the players were very happy, the crowds were very happy and with the SABC covering the semifinals and final for the first time, it’s given us a great platform to launch into the future.”

Smith emphasised the tournament’s importance in building a legacy for tennis in the area, which was already a development hub with 500 to 600 children involved in a daily coaching programme at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex.

“Most of them are playing mini-tennis but we have a few graduating to the higher levels,” he said. “There are a lot of kids starting to play tennis here and I think with events like this, a lot of kids aspire to being able to play at this level and it’s great that they can see what it means to become a top tennis player.”