High performance director says there’s enough talent for South African tennis players to flourish.
Having coached South Africa to within a win of getting into the quarterfinals of the inaugural ATP Cup this week, Tennis SA’s new high performance director Jeff Coetzee – who also coaches the world’s top-ranked doubles team of Colombians Robert Farah and Juan Sebastián Cabal – discussed his plans for the sport.
Given your doubles coaching schedule, you seem to be a busy man, so why take on the job?
It’s obviously to give back to South Africa. I’ve been giving back to the Colombian guys and I’ve been with them for the past six years. I just felt like, when the opportunity arose, it was a great time for me to be part of growing tennis in South Africa.
The job is listed as part time, but the mandate is made up of a lengthy list. Are you confident you’ll have enough time to do it?
Yes, it’s just a matter of time management. I’ll just have to stop watching my TV series and give up other things. Also, with the internet and social media in today’s world, I’ll be in touch with the chief executive officer every 10 days to two weeks.
I’ll also start going to the office next month. We do have a plan, and the nice thing about being with the team at the ATP Cup is that, because I’m sitting with the players, they can tell me, as the director of tennis, what they want.
How did you end up coaching in Colombia?
Out of the blue, I got a call from one of the guys I coach, Rob Farah. He’d heard my name somewhere and got my number through a friend. It’s been good so far, starting when their ranking was in the 60s to where they are now [first]. It’s a great achievement for all of us.
In an interview, you spoke about helping South Africans win grand slams. How do you do that?
We definitely have the talent if you look at a guy like Lloyd Harris. With the right structure, we’re going to have a lot more Lloyds and Kevins [Anderson].
We’ve got so close in the past with Kevin getting to the singles grand slam finals and Raven [Klaasen] in the doubles.
I feel like the talent is there, we just have to put a structure in place and start them younger. One of the reasons I took on this job is the connections I have all over the world.
I set up a meeting with Tennis Australia, I’ve set up another one with the US Tennis Association and other countries where I have connections.
We have so many South Africans all over the world who are willing to help. So how do we utilise that? Those doors are wide open. I still have a relationship with the German Academy, where I worked before.
From your experience as a former player, what obstacles are standing in the way of our success?
Money plays a big part, and having it makes things a little easier. I feel that if we have the resources, there’s no doubt that a country such as South Africa can do it.
I’ve seen a lot of junior talent – just a few things are lacking. These guys [from other countries] are so much more professional than ours at a younger age.
With our guys, that professionalism is almost a surprise when they get to see them. For example, this week has been unbelievable for Kholo [Montsi] because he’s seen how to deal with things on and off the court.
How are you going to get the best out of the sporting talent in South Africa?
We are a rugby, soccer, cricket and netball-mad country, but we have to find a way to put tennis up there. I think the way to do it is to create a lot of awareness and tournaments. It helps if you have local players competing on TV every week in big competitions such as the Davis Cup and the ATP Cup. I know that my job is a little on the high performance side for now, but I want to create something really professional for players from ages 10 or 12. That’s why I was so intrigued by the job offer.
The top players haven’t exactly embraced the idea of an ATP Cup coming so soon after a new Davis Cup format. What are your thoughts on the ATP Cup?
I think it’s great and it’s been a long time coming. Tennis Australia has made a huge investment and everyone seems excited by it. I think there is room for it, but, somewhere along the line, the ATP and the International Tennis Federation are going to have to combine something because it’s a tough swing to go from the ATP finals to the Davis Cup and the ATP Cup.