Africa’s tennis talent is steadily rising to the top. The sport that has a reputation for being expensive and exclusionary is seeing more African players performing at global standards despite the lack of professional tournaments on the continent.
Featuring players are mostly self-funded and self-supported, but their show of success may push countries into making a meaningful investment in the sport.
Ons Jabeur (Tunisia)
The youngest of four, tennis player Ons Jabeur, started her career on hotel tennis courts in the nearby resort town of Hammam Sousse. She then moved to Tunis at the age of 12 to train at an acclaimed state-run sports club.
Her global debut happened in 2011 when at 16, she won the girls’ singles at the French Open. After years of consistent wins and arduous work, she broke into the world’s top 50 at the Australian Open in January 2020.
Two years later, Jabeur is ranked second in the world and the first African-Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final in the modern era.
“I see myself like I’m on a mission,” she told the Guardian “I tell myself I chose to do this. Let’s say, I chose to inspire people. I chose to be the person that I am. I want to share my experience one day and really get more and more generations here.”
“So, I don’t see it as a burden, I see it as a great pleasure and great responsibility. It’s part of the job, it’s part of why I am playing today. And I do believe in sharing. Sharing could help me, help me as a player and help the other generations.”
Although she did not win the title, she is likely to come back even more prepared for her next final.
So long Wimbledon & England!! ❤️????
Made memories for life here. Until next time! ????
— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) July 10, 2022
She talked about this hope saying, “I’m glad that at the beginning of the season I set my goals high, and said that I want to hold titles, win a grand slam and be top five. There is one more to achieve and hopefully I will achieve it.”
Angella Okutoyi (Kenya)
Professional tennis player Angella Okutoyi became the first Kenyan to win a Grand Slam title at the girls’ juniors Wimbledon event with partner Rose Marie Nijkamp. They played against and beat Canadians Kayla Cross and Victoria Mboko.
This is the first time in 16 years a Kenyan has played at the Australian Open Juniors, and only the second time a Kenyan girl has played a junior grand slam tournament. Okutoyi started playing tennis at age 4 before moving to Burundi when she was 10 to train at the ITF East Africa Regional Training Centre. She eventually returned to Nairobi to develop her game at the ITF East Africa High-Performance Centre.
The 18-year-old who is the pride of her country following her stellar performances at Wimbledon and the Australian open told BBC Sport Africa, “I’m now able to inspire most players from Kenya and Africa. I’m able to put a belief in them that they can also achieve it… It doesn’t matter the background you come from or where you’ve been, it’s just the belief and the dream that you can achieve it. Now I believe that we’ll have more Kenyans here for sure.”
Used to playing on hard courts, it was also the first time the youngster played grass-court tennis. “This is my first time in Wimbledon and now I’m starting to love grass,” she said. “It doesn’t matter about the surface – just the belief you have in yourself, you can play in any surface. So yeah, I’m happy to play on grass for sure.”
Speaking on her aspirations moving forward, Okutoyi is aiming for senior events as she graduates from the junior’s circuit.
“Ever since I was a kid, my goal was to see myself playing at the big stages, win as many Grand Slams as possible, and to be the first Kenyan to be in a Grand Slam,” she said. “So, for me, I believe that that’s going to happen.”