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Which way tennis, after this duo?

Enoch Muchinjo

LAST Saturday the Zimbabwe Davis Cup doubles pair of Wayne Black and Kevin Ulyett won the Australia Open doubles trophy in Melbourne to clinch the first of their second Grand Slam titles in th

e first major tournament of the year.

One hopes the pair’s success in Melbourne is only the beginning of a good season for local tennis, with the Black/Ulyett combination also expected to steer Zimbabwe to a Davis Cup resurgence later in the year.

Black and Ulyett’s latest victory furnishes further proof of what Zimbabwean tennis is capable of producing.
However, only serious pursuit of well set goals, clear vision, sound structures and consistency can attain such a high level of excellence. Sadly, the current state of affairs in local tennis does not point to any brighter future for the game.

The big question of whether Zimbabwe tennis will manage to stay afloat after the retirement of Wayne Black and Ulyett, the last dynasty of the golden era of Zimbabwe tennis, is not a new subject to tennis discussions in this country.

The country’s former number one player, Byron Black, who retired two years ago after an illustrious career which saw him lead Zimbabwe through its best years in tennis, passed on the baton to his younger brother Wayne who ably carried on with the good work.

Lack of a proper development plan and short-sightedness on the part of the tennis bosses in the country has now almost assured that this remarkable consistency will finally be condemned to the annals of tennis history in Zimbabwe.

The previous Tennis Zimbabwe (TZ) administration led by Paul Chingoka was guilty of basking in the glory of the Blacks era and ignoring the other forms of the game which were left to reel under poor funding and little exposure at the highest level of tennis competition.

Chingoka rode on the achievements of the Black siblings, while the gap between the Blacks and later Ulyett, and the next batch of Zimbabwean players, continued to widen with each passing year.

The chasm is such that there is no comparison in terms of playing standards between Ulyett, who was the country’s number two player, and Genius Chidzikwe, who is ranked third in the Davis Cup line-up.

Chidzikwe, who has been touted for a long time as the heir apparent to Byron and Wayne Black, is now aged 27.

Chidzikwe is still only a lightweight on the international circuit, while in other

countries players barely out of their teens are already Grand Slam champions, or have good rankings on the ATP Tour.

Besides Chidzikwe, there are other players as well who have outgrown the “promising” player scale without making any recognisable impact.

There are a host of TZ development programme products, some of them at United States universities scholarship beneficiaries, some even approaching their 30s.

Can Zimbabwe tennis pin hopes on the likes of Martin Dzuwa, Gwinyai Tongoona and Zibusiso Ncube to keep the country on the world map? Not when they are failing to rise above local and regional tournaments, and when young players are dominating the world game than ever before.

Cecil Gombera, the new man at the helm of TZ after he replaced Chingoka last year, must not repeat the same mistakes of seeking glory over a success story he contributed little to.

Gombera must work hard for his own products and take into mind that his success will be measured by the Black/Ulyett aftermath.

The Annual National Sports Awards held last week saw African sporting legend Frankie Fredericks of Namibia gracing the occasion as guest of honour.

The Ansa organisers obviously took advantage of Namibia’s proximity to Zimbabwe to bring Fredericks for the awards, but that did not take anything away from the former sprinter’s visit.

Fredericks made his mark on the world stage and is recognised throughout the world. On Friday he went on to produce an inspirational yet humble speech, which must be a source of strength for local aspiring world champions.

Despite all the efforts by the organisers to make the Ansa a respected and prestigious event on the Zimbabwe sports calendar, the flawed nominations and disputed award winners left the Ansa team with egg on their faces.

We were told that international competition would be used as a criterion for the awards.

Soccer champions Caps United, who were by far the best performing local sports team in 2004, were “disqualified” from the Sports Team of the Year because of their lack of international competition. Fine.

But what about their coach Charles Mhlauri, who was voted Sports Coach of the Year, with only two international matches under his belt — both defeats to Angola and Zambia when he took charge of the Warriors for the first time?

So his award was based on these two matches? Or maybe Mhlauri was an exception to that.

Cephas Chimedza, the Soccer Star of the Year from Caps, only had a handful of caps for the national team and by that alone, he did not even merit a nomination in the Sportsman of the Year category.

Clearly, the organisers were in breach of their own set rules by honouring a game which did not deserve to be on the podium on Friday night.

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