Africa remains the unexplored continent

Court Circular
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The Independent Online

Of the 552 competitors – men, women, boys, girls – at this year's tournament, only one, Hendry Adjei-Darko from Ghana, was a black African. The International Tennis Federation's director of development, Dave Miley, admits that it is a "sad indictment of the way the modern game has progressed". It is also, he says, a growing concern for the governing body. "We are worried. I have no doubt that there are some very good players in central Africa; the difficulty is giving them a chance to play." Two years ago, the ITF set up a centre of excellence in Pretoria in South Africa, where talented children from all over the continent are offered food, lodgings, coaching and equipment. The problem is that there are just 24 players in the school at the moment. So why are there so few black Africans breaking through? "Money," Miley says, "is a good place to start. If we want to set up a tournament in Europe, we just pick a club to hold it at and buy a new trophy. In Africa, we have to provide travel, accommodation, transfers, organisation, balls, rackets and strings for each and every player. One week alone costs $42,000, so you can imagine we can't hold events every week. Give me more money and I'll find you new players." Finances are not, however, the sole solution. Last year, the ITF development department received $4m [$2.5m from the ITF coffers and $1.5m from the Grand Slam committee]. Of that, they spent $1.4m on Africa alone and yet there are still only a few players coming through. "Results will not happen overnight," Miley says. "We have a five-year plan and, by the end of it, we hope to have the right structures in place. Only then can we really start grooming future African champions."

Hail Pistol Pete the wisecracker

If fans won tournaments, Pete Sampras would be Wimbledon champion for the eighth time today. The American's 45 "Fan Links" on the ATP website is a record. One of the better sites, www.samprasfanz.com, features an intriguing section, named Paul Fein's "23 reasons to love Pete". Reason No 3 is Pete's dry wit. Sampras, Fein assures us, illustrated his clever repartee when asked to comment on the news that he, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi seemed to be friends again. Sampras' witty response? "There's a lot of love in the air." Another well-liked player is Goran Ivanisevic – who has 20 fan sites – although several of his supporters seemed to have lost confidence in him of late. Take Jukka's site (http:// koti.mbnet.fi/goran), where the creator splashed the message: "Sorry I haven't updated my site for a while. I'll start again when Goran does something useful." As for our Tim, he may lag behind with just 14 sites, but he has the most entertaining message board: "Tiger," writes Mike from England, "go for it. You can sparkle better than my favourite drink, Tango."

Anyone for veterans' tennis?

The splendid weather for most of the tournament has been a boon and a blessing for everyone – except the BBC. Until Friday's rain arrived, theywere left with a scheduling nightmare. Most of the main matches finished so early on several occasions last week the Beeb had to fill their prime-time airspace with veterans' doubles. "I couldn't believe it," the former British No 1 John Lloyd says, "when I found myself on Centre Court at 6pm in the middle of the second week."

The Women's Tour has set up a "partners for success" scheme whereby former greats of the game lend support to up-and-coming players. According to WTA press officers, the "mentors", as they are known, are selected on the basis of their personal and professional talents.

"These women have demonstrated a commitment to excellence, integrity, success and leadership." The "protégés", meanwhile, must be under 19 and in the top 100 of the singles' rankings. In essence, this is a buddy system, where the seniors pass on their experience to the pups. So far, the plan has thrown up some interesting combinations. Tracy Austin, who won the US Open in 1979 and 1981, is paired with the 1999 Wimbledon semi-finalist Alexandra Stevenson. This year's finalist Justine Henin is seeking advice from French Open winner Virginia Ruzici while Mirjana Lucic, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, is benefiting from the knowledge of Martina Navratilova. As for Katarina Srebotnik of Slovakia, she may have been knocked out in the first round of qualifying, but at least she has Gabriela Sabatini as mentor. Some people have all the luck.

The Prince and Princess of Belgium came to SW19 to support Justine Henin, and such is her appeal back home that the 19-year-old is expected to be granted an audience with King Albert II.

"If he is kind enough to invite me," she said, "then I will give him my racket." The francophile Belgian TV channel RTB were expecting to beat all previous viewing records with the Henin final. They were expecting up to 800,000 to watch. That may not sound high – 26 million Brits were glued to their sets for the England-Argentina World Cup match – but for a nation of just 10m, with fewer than four million French speakers, it isn't bad. "This is the height of the holidays," said a spokesman, "and the country is practically empty. It says everything about Justine's impact."

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