South African Tribute To Tennis Legends Finally Takes Place
It really was a case of “third time lucky” that IC SA was able to host an event which culminated in a Gala Dinner when the Legends of South African tennis were named. This was a project that should have been staged in 2019, but we know what happened in March that year, COVID struck, and we were “house bound” and of course had to postpone. In 2022 it was again tried, but the response was such that it could not meaningfully be held.
So come 2023, and one final roll of the dice and although of the six other IC countries that agreed to come in 2019, only Belgium managed to take part and very welcome they were. In all 10 teams took part with over 55 and over 65 age groups being the two sections. The event was staged at Sun City a unique venue boasting two championship golf courses, four hotels and a large Conference center. The golfers amongst you will have seen the venue when the Nedbank Million Dollar tournament, which forms part of the European Tour, is held in November.
We were delighted that we could welcome friends and guests from United States of America, Canada, Belgium and Mozambique.
The players arrived on Monday 2 May and were given a welcome braai that evening on the lawns in front of the accommodation and the IC SA chairman welcomed the players and spectators to the event. A typical South African outdoor eating meal was served.
Play began on Tuesday and throughout the next two days, the play was definitely competitive and the quality of a high standard bearing in mind the ages. Guile sometimes takes over where brute force was used many years ago which produced some intriguing rallies which left the spectators in awe of most of the performances.
Wednesday evening a game drive to the Bakubung Game Reserve was organized and although it is a matter of luck as to whether you see much in the way of African wildlife, most would have been satisfied to see a number elephants, rhino, warthogs and quite an array of the various species of buck.
Thursday heralded the end of play and following the prizegiving, the Gala Dinner was held where 85 people sat down to hear the announcement of the SA Legends. The committee had decided that they would honor those players who had achieved success the Grand Slam events and on the ATP and WTA tours plus the Davis cup and Fed cup. The cut-off was the end of the last century. As professional tennis only came to fruition in 1968, cognizance had to be taken of those players who played prior to the inception of open tennis through their achievements in the SA Open and closed championships and on the limited tours that players in those days could undertake. Not an easy task!
It was almost beyond expectation that the large number of former legions of the game came to support the function. Former South African great ladies present were Sandra Price, Annette du Play, Pat Pretorius (nee Walkden),Ros Fairbank, Greer Stevens, Linky Boschoff and Ilana Kloss,
And the crowning glory was to be able to welcome the great Billie Jean King who enthusiastically enjoyed the time with us.
Sadly, the number of men could not match the ladies in attendance, but with the majority of them now residing overseas, and some unable to travel, John Laffnie de Jager was standing tall on his own.
During the evening video messages were shown from former players Amanda Coetzer, Cliff Drysdale and Owen Williams. This all added to the prestige of the event.
During his speech regarding the Legends chairman Mike Dunk said “The contribution by South African tennis players to the worldwide game, cannot be underestimated and it is right and fitting that that these players should be honored for the successes they have achieved not only for themselves, but also for the country. Over many years South African players have left an indelible footprint all over the world. Titles at Grand Slam events as well as on both the ATP and WTA tours; medals gained at the Olympic Games and the crowning achievements of both men and ladies who have inscribed the name of South Africa on both the Davis and Fed Cups. On the seniors tour, we have won gold in both the men and ladies events and our wheelchair players have become a force to be reckoned with all over the world.”
The winners of the event were;
In the over 55 age group, the team known as The Giraffes with team members Lindsay North, Neville Wright, Phumla Xotyeni and Pri Bladen.
The winners of the over 65 age group were the Wildebeest team with team members Brian Clark, Darryl Weizs, Rene Plant and Debra Hyde.
Mike Dunk, IC of South Africa President
The Legends Event in South Africa 1-5 May 2023
The Legends event at the Sun City Resort has come and gone. Planning for the event, which began with its conceptualisation in 2016, came to fruition at last with three days of tennis and culminating in a Gala Tribute Dinner for 90 guests.
Ten teams in two age-groups competed for the Legends Trophy. Excitement was palpable when it became known that Ilana Kloss and Ros Nideffer would play in 2 of the teams, and together with our own Rene Plant, other top SA Masters’ players, and two wonderful teams from Belgium, the battle for honours began.
Played in a round robin format, 5 teams in the 55+ and 5 teams in the 65+ age groups, competed in a beautiful setting over 3 days of beautiful weather. In the end, the Giraffes won the 55+ event and the Wildebeest the 65+ event. Winners each received a small glass elephant mounted on a glass base. In addition, our visitors from Belgium also received a glass elephant in appreciation for their trip to SA.
We had a wonderful team who made the tournament the success it was. From Hardy and Trudy Botha and their dedicated team of workers who provided breakfasts, lunches and scrumptious eats all day long. To Tournament Director, Lorna Krog, her capable partner, Sybrand, and assistant Stephen, who efficiently conducted the business of the day.
The Gala Tribute, held in the Convention Centre was, was organised by Leonie Grondel and professionally co-ordinated by Rene Booysen of the company, Quartermaster. Against a backdrop of Legends’ photographs, Mike Dunk, IC SA Chairman, warmly welcomed the guests after which the evening’s proceedings began with the first course. There followed a presentation to heroes and supporters of tennis in the 20th century. People who passionately follow tennis, who are interested in all things tennis, are to be seen at every tournament and some of whom have many achievements of which to be proud. Some of our heroes made a special trip to Sun City to support the Legends initiative and received a commemorative booklet from Legend Sandra Reynolds Price.
We especially paid tribute to the South Africa players of colour who, for the first time were honoured alongside their white counterparts. Denied the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with white players, much of the time plying their trade on sub-standard courts and playing surfaces, our Black, Indian and Coloured players were remembered for their passion at keeping the game alive in their communities. Who can tell what history might have reflected if playing fields had been level in times gone by.
Of course, we were incredibly honoured to have with us the legend, Billie-Jean King who made the presentation to Cavan Bergman, himself an honoree, and representing at the same time all the players of colour who have gone before.
After Dinner, the presentations to South Africa’s very first Legends of Tennis took place. Once again, against a backdrop of photographs, we started with the first winners of the SA Championships in 1891 and progressed to the end of the 20th century. 68 legends were honoured and presented with a commemorative album by President of the TSA Board, Mr Gavin Crookes. We were so very fortunate to have 10 of them with us on the night. The oldest recipient was Sandra Reynolds Price from the 1960’s who was our special guest for the evening. Ian Vermaak (90 years old) was booked to attend but unfortunately fell the day before departure from his hometown and was unable to travel. Amanda Coetzer, Cliff Drysdale and Owen Williams sent video messages of support.
The closing and vote of thanks preceded dessert and an enjoyable interlude on the dance floor brought the evening to a close. We trust it will not be the last. The 21st century is already creating its own Legends.
Legends of Tennis SA
15 May 2023