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Home Court: Johannesburg

Australian Open 2009

The Montecasino in Johannesburg© Reg CaldecottConstruction continues at the Montecasino as Johannesburg prepares to host the SA Tennis Open.
Johannesburg native Kevin Anderson and South African doubles star Jeff Coetzee share the appeal and sights of the new ATP World Tour destination.

By Kevin Anderson

I’ve been told by many people that Johannesburg was once the largest city in the world in terms of land mass. Originally called Witwatersrand – ‘ridge of white waters’ in English – people from all around the world flocked there a couple hundred years ago after gold was found and the city expanded so that Witwatersrand encompassed the region from Pretoria all the way to Joburg and surrounding areas.

Though Joburg may be smaller than it once was, it still remains South Africa’s biggest city, and this year, the place I’ve called home for pretty much my whole life will host many of the world’s best tennis players. Given that this is the first ATP World Tour tournament in Joburg in over a decade, you can bet that South African Tennis will put on the best show it possibly can. I think all the players will have a good time.

Like any large city, Joburg is very metropolitan. There are a lot of people, a lot of things to do and a lot of excitement, though I wouldn’t say that it has a big city feel. If you compare it to Chicago or New York, where you have skyscrapers everywhere, the Joburg I know is more suburban with nice shopping centres and high-rises limited to tall residential buildings.

The place where the tournament is being held, Montecasino, is also located outside the city centre. It’s a great, five-star hotel built within the last 10 years and it has a Venetian feel to it with old streets and a painted ceiling that makes you think you’re outside when you’re actually inside. There’s a shopping centre, casino, movie theatre, and restaurants so if you don’t want to get out, you’d have a pretty good time just staying there.

Though Joburg is actually one of the greenest cities – apparently it has more trees than any city in the world – there aren’t a lot of natural wonders here. If visitors have time, I would strongly recommend that they get a car and make the two hour drive to Kruger National Park. Everyone who goes there says that it’s a spectacular place. Similar to other game parks I’ve been to, you see quite a lot of animals. It’s really nice being in the wilderness and interacting with nature like that.

Another must-see place is Sun City, which is the biggest attraction in close proximity to Joburg. It has fantastic hotels, unbelievable landscaping, a theme park with water slides, a man-made beach with waves, and a huge casino. If you want to spend a great weekend, I would definitely suggest going out there.

As far as cuisine, no trip to Joburg is complete without trying one of our most famous foods, biltong, which is basically dried and cured beef. It comes in different forms of game too. It’s a deep South African tradition, often accompanied by social get-togethers. There are a few biltong shops around, but pretty much everyone sells it.

For the guys playing at the SA Tennis Open, it’s a good idea to get here a couple days earlier to adjust not only to breathing but to playing since Joburg is way up there in altitude. At 5,700 feet, it’s the highest place I’ve ever been. When you’re just walking around, it’s not a big deal but when you start to run and specifically play tennis, you find that the air is noticeably thinner. They use a special ball for the altitude, but it still flies through the air a lot quicker.

Personally speaking, it’s great that an ATP World Tour tournament is returning to South Africa. I’m looking forward to playing at home, in conditions I’m pretty comfortable with and in front of my family and friends. Overall I think it’s going to be a really good week.

By Jeff Coetzee

If there’s a good way to characterise Johannesburg, I’d call it a place of opportunities. It’s a money-making city, and with the gold, it’s booming. Like any other big city like New York, London or Paris, you have to keep up with the town otherwise you’ll fall behind. I know a lot of people who spend five days in Johannesburg and on weekends come home to Cape Town where we have a more relaxed lifestyle.

When I was 12, I moved from a little village with a population of 5,000 to this huge city with eight-odd million people. Tennis was all in Johannesburg – the Federation, which looked after me for four years, and guys like Wayne Ferreira were there – and it was the place to be if you wanted to make something of yourself.

As a teenager, I didn’t really have a chance to see much of the city since I was basically just there for tennis. Three days a week, I had to go to Ellis Park – the main venue where the Federation was based – so I would take a taxi into the city and a bus to the courts. Occasionally, I would skip school and go watch the elite squad practice there.

I only managed to go out and properly see Johannesburg once I was on the Tour. On my most recent visit, last November after the Tennis Masters Cup, my friend took me to all the areas where we used to live. It was interesting to drive through the city and see how it’s changed. It’s amazing how busy it is – it’s sort of like Los Angeles with all the buildings and people driving Bentleys. The traffic is crazy, and it’s grown so much. When everybody tells you something’s just around the corner, the corner actually means half an hour.

Similar to escaping to the Hamptons from Manhattan, it’s nice having the option to get away to a totally different world within two hours of Johannesburg. There’s no water because it’s inland but you can make the drive to Sun City and take advantage of the wave park, which I managed to do in November, or enjoy a calmer side of South Africa on safari.

The other times I’ve been in Johannesburg, I’ve gone out to Sandton, which is the most popular part of Johannesburg. It’s where the posh people go – kind of like a little Beverly Hills. We stayed at the Michelangelo Hotel in Mandela Square when we played Davis Cup against Slovakia a couple years ago and had a chance to enjoy the popular restaurants in the area, including the Butcher’s Grill where you can get a nice steak.

The Montecasino is not far from there. I’m not a big gambler, but I’ve gone there a couple times to eat since a friend of mine lives nearby. My first impression when I saw the ceilings and surroundings was that it felt similar to being at the Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas with all the restaurants and stores. I haven’t been at the Montecasino for years, but it’s obviously been upgraded. I’m looking forward to see how they fit in the tennis courts when there was nothing previously but parking spaces.

When we held the World Doubles Championship in Johannesburg in 1992, I used to wish I could play there one day. I didn’t think South Africa would host an ATP tournament before I was done with my career, so I’m very happy and excited about this chance after the Australian Open. It’s perfect for South Africa to have this tournament. Along with where we are at the moment in Davis Cup – hosting a Group One tie in Johannesburg come March – tennis is really getting a good push in South Africa.

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© Reg Caldecott


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