Kevin Anderson clinching a US Open men’s singles semi-finals showdown with Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta in New York has given South African tennis a massive boost.
Football, rugby and cricket dominate the sport scene in the republic, taking most of the sponsorship money and the media space.
After defeating American Sam Querrey in the quarter- finals at Flushing Meadows, Anderson made the main sport page of many dailies.
“It was a pleasant if unusual sight,” Tennis South Africa (TSA) chief executive Richard Glover said in Johannesburg.
“South Africans are used to seeing the back pages dominated by the ‘big three’ of football, rugby and cricket so it was nice to have positive tennis publicity.”
Glover hailed 31-year-old Florida-based Anderson for reaching the last four of a Grand Slam championship for the first time, saying that when it comes to publicity “nothing beats on-court success”.
Johannesburg-born Anderson is the first South African to make the last four of a Grand Slam event since Wayne Ferreira at the 2003 Australian Open in Melbourne.
“My phone almost exploded after Kevin won his quarter- final,” chuckled Glover, who joined the national tennis body in 2016.
“It rang non stop and, interestingly, it was non-tennis sport followers who were phoning to say how wonderful it was that Kevin had reached the semi-finals.”
Grand Slam semi-finals are uncharted territory for Anderson, who reached the last eight in New York two years ago but has never advanced beyond the fourth round at Melbourne, Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
Like all South African sport bosses outside the “big three”, Glover has the challenging task of wooing financial backers.
He seems to possess a Midas touch, however, having signed five sponsors, including local property and telecommunications giants and a South Korean car manufacturer.
South Africa have adopted a bottom-up approach to tennis, concentrating on development to try and unearth more Kevin Andersons, who has three ATP titles to his credit.
Once perceived as an elitist white sport, Glover would also love to find a South African Serena Williams, the black American who has dominated women’s tennis for many years.
“That white elitist perception might have been true to some extent in the past,” conceded Glover, “but we are building development centres with the first due to open in Cape Town soon.”
TSA public relations consultant Bruce Davidson said that Anderson could not have reached his first Grand Slam semi-final at a more opportune time.
“These are challenging times economically in South Africa and the publicity generated by Kevin can only assist the sport.
“His victories in New York have given renewed energy to all those involved with the sport from school level to academies and clubs.
“Finance is our greatest challenge and Richard Glover has done a magnificent job. We also have a national organisation packed with people who bring so much intellectual capital to the table.”
Davidson said it cost about 40 million rand ($3.1 million, €2.6 million) to stage a one-week, bottom-tier men’s ATP event.
A brief revival of the South African Open as part of the international calendar proved an annual crowd puller in Johannesburg, but ended in 2011 for financial reasons.
Similar cash constraints two decades ago stopped the women’s WTA circuit from including South Africa as a destination.
Glover is hopeful, though, that better times lie ahead for South African tennis.
“Sponsors want their money well spent and I believe Tennis South Africa achieves that goal. We have an eight-year plan designed to take the sport to a higher level.”
Should Anderson overcome Carreno Busta, he would face another Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, or Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in the final.