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Tsonga, South African Duo Inspire Soweto Youth

Johannesburg, South Africa

Jo-Wilfried TsongaReg CaldecottJo-Wilfried Tsonga Plays With Soweto Kids

Travelling via police escort, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jeff Coetzee and Wesley Moodie headed to Soweto (South Western Townships) on Wednesday to meet and coach some of the sprawling township’s kids at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in White City, Jabavu.

Tsonga and Coetzee-Moodie, the SA Tennis Open singles and doubles No.1 seeds respectively, spent more than an hour running through basic training drills with the youngest kids, while hitting with or coaching the future generation of South African tennis players, some of whom had never picked up a racquet before.

At the end of the clinic, youngsters from the Jabavu and neighbouring areas broke out in song in appreciation and moments later the broad-smiling Muhammad Ali look-alike tennis pro started dancing, even throwing in the odd Ali-shuffle in his routine.

"As a kid I never had a chance to go to clinics which were conducted by the world's top players," said Tsonga. "It's really great for them although I think many of them do not know the players here. But I would like them to go home and dream about becoming professional tennis players one day. They've got to be able to dream about it because that could be the start of great things for them. It's so important that they are able to dream."

Tsonga, whose father was born in  Pointe Noire, Congo, has always been proud of his African heritage and prior to his arrival in Johannesburg he had been at pains to make the point that he has long had an emotional attachment to the African continent. He was clearly at home among the children and it seemed Tsonga's enjoyment was at its greatest when he was putting the smallest toddlers through their paces with basic drills.

Tsonga said, "It's extra special for me because I am part African. Hopefully by coming here today I can build on the legacy that the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre has started. It was an important opportunity for me to come  here to Soweto. As tennis players we are really well looked after, so the chance to give something back to the community is very important and I am glad that I was able to play some tennis and muck around with the kids and hopefully I can inspire more kids from Africa to play tennis in the future."

South African Wesley Moodie was clearly impressed with the kids and identified the Soweto as a region that can also provide future tennis stars. He said: "It was great. I was on the court with kids who had never played tennis before and I was pleasantly surprised how good some of them were. It just shows what type of potential can come from Soweto and if they have the right funding and the right guidance stars can be produced from there."

Moodie’s doubles partner, Jeff Coetzee, also enjoyed the opportunity to continue the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre legacy as well.

"I think it’s such a great thing," said Coetzee. "Arthur Ashe was such a great legend and to have something like that at that stadium - and I know they are going to have a Challenger there in a couple of months - and just to get tennis going, especially in Soweto, is going to be phenomenal. Hopefully people will come and support it and get tennis growing again in South Africa and in development areas.

"I enjoyed it, obviously giving back to development. You know I come from that kind of thing and it’s nice to see. I was lucky to hit with some players that had never touched a ball and I was very impressed. If they keep doing what they are doing there might be some guys and girls coming through hopefully in the near future somewhere."

Coetzee is also excited to have an ATP World Tour event back in his home country. "Geez it’s been a while. I thought I would not be on the (ATP World) Tour again before it happens. I grew up a little bit in Johannesburg and I have a bunch of friends who are going to come support me, but it’s great for tennis in South Africa, and also where we are in Davis Cup, it’s gonna help, and hopefully tennis can just grow and grow because now it is at the lowest it has ever been but now we are going towards the right direction in South Africa," enthused Coetzee.

Having the SA Tennis Open back in South Africa has helped the South African Tennis Association with its proactive campaign to develop the sport across the entire country, particularly in Soweto.

"It’s great. We have a big development program in Soweto. To have Wesley and Jeff there, as well as a player like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who has an African connection with his father being from the Congo, it was very exciting for the young kids to see a player like him in their midst and I hope it inspires them to get up. It’s just a wonderful event and I thank the ATP for helping us out," said Ian Smith, SATA Chief Executive Officer and SA Tennis Open Tournament Director.

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© Hiroshi Sato

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