Davis Cup exposes ‘skipped’ generation
THE Zimbabwe Davis Cup team’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of Romania on Saturday is a major setback for local tennis and has left followers of the sport in the country with more questions than answers.
Zimbabwe had started the second and final day of the Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group II tie at the Sala Polivalenta Indoor Arena in Piatra Neamt with high hopes of causing an upset as the two teams were tied 1-1. This was after the country’s number two player Benjamin Lock, who is ranked 546 in the world had caused a huge upset by beating Romania’s Marius Copil ranked number 80 in the first match of the tie 6-4, 7-5.
However, Romania rose to the occasion to progress to the next stage, writing yet another chapter to Zimbabwe’s Davis Cup results that sadly many local fans are now familiar with — same script different cast.
Could the Davis Cup glory days be gone?
To put it in fiscal terms, Tennis Zimbabwe has reached the end of Q1 in 2019. A quarter to reflect and review on expenses incurred, cash generated, losses suffered, potential players who can raise the game standards and seeding.
It is also a period to analyse tournaments that lie ahead and those from which our players have been eliminated or failed to qualify and how the sport’s brand can be revived.
Tennis is generally seen as an elite sport, but just like every sport, there will be accusations why some set goals and objectives were not met, silent infighting, personal grievances and naked ambitions. The appeal of parity in any sport is in the eye of the beholder.
But it is now 15 years since the Davis Cup tournament lost the spark, anticipation, following and glamour that brought the corporate world, fans and players together. Even on social media hash tag #Zim/RomaniaDavisCup was none existent in this part of the world. At this consistent uninterrupted decline in rankings, interest, attention and seeding hashtag #ZimDavisCup #ZimTennis or #TennisZimbabwe might take ages to trend on social media platforms.
Tennis as a once in a generation sport?
After the retirement of the Black brothers, Bryron and Wayne and Kevin Ullyett no local player has managed to fill their shoes.
Zimbabwe tennis, which has for a nearly two decades was kept in the limelight by the Black siblings and Ullyett, is hard-pressed to prove there is life after the trio.
The country’s tennis governing body, Tennis Zimbabwe, has at times come under criticism for failing to produce good players to take over from this generation. Highly motivated players such as the Lock brothers Benjamin and Courtney, Takanyi Garanganga, Mark Fynn, Mehluli Sibanda Nigel Badza, and Pfungwa Mahefu are yet to match the bar that was set during the Blacks era.
Other players, Martin Dzuwa, Gwinyai Tongoona and Genius Chidzikwe hung up their rackets without making an impact on the court internationally.
For a country that caused a stir when Zimbabwe narrowly lost 2-3 in the quarterfinals to the United States fielding household names in the sport then including maestro Andre Agassi in the 2000 edition of the elite Davis Cup tournament, no one would have imagined that come 2019, no Zimbabwean player would have broken into the ATP top 100 for a decade.
The Black family including younger sister Cara represented the country with distinction on the professional tennis circuit between 1991 and 2015.
The trio bagged at least a single doubles Grand Slam title each among many other titles during their careers.
So what does the future hold?
After the defeat, Zimbabwe’s Davis Cup non-playing captain Tongoona said it was important to have a supporting system for players to compete in as many events as possible.
“The ideal situation would be to give our players more support so that they can play in more tournaments and improve their level of play,” he said.
“Team performance was very good. We competed and after Benjamin’s big win on Friday, we had to cause more upsets to win the tie. Their doubles team are the Olympic silver medallists, so that was a tough doubles for us again. We played them close and gave ourselves a chance throughout,” Tongoona said.
It is reasonably encouraging that the Lock brothers still have the conviction that Zimbabwe will regroup and rise again.
But it must be sobering that Zimbabweans in general will be content with a “competitive” result even though it is a loss — if the hard times that have hit the game in the country are to be taken seriously.
The country’s failure to hold the International Tennis Federation Futures Circuit for close to seven years most probably contributed to the stagnation of the sport.
The Futures Circuit is the window to professional tennis, enabling young professionals to progress to the ATP Challenger Tour and ultimately the ATP World Tour. The retired trio of Ullyett, Wayne and Byron Black, who went on to put Zimbabwe on the tennis world map, passed through the Futures Circuits.
The country’s failure to host such important tournaments meant that local players had to travel around the world where such tournaments were being played and owing to the huge costs involved, most players were forced into early retirement. Only time will tell if local tennis will rise from the doldrums it finds itself in going forward.