When the venerable Margaret Court brought with her a reputation fortified by an unprecedented 64 grand slam titles (24 of which are singles!), Ugandan tennis seemed to get a spring in its step.
An enduring, impoverished cousin of its opposite numbers, Ugandan tennis did manage - with the help of Court - to serve and volley its way to the back pages of mainstream dailies such as The Daily Monitor.
Court had lots of kind words for Ugandan tennis, which was not astonishing in this day and age of political correctness. The Australian tennis legend said that as a teenager she had to beat odds similar to the ones aspiring Ugandan players face.
Hers, she added, was anything but a titled, if wealthy, family. It was impecunious just like the one of kids (predominantly hailing from the backwater of Naguru) that keep walking through the gates of Lugogo Tennis Club (LTC) Complex.
As Court fielded questions from the media at the fringes of LTC’s centre court, I watched a pre-teen girl frailly attempt an overhead volley.
Clearly, the kids had been told that a legendary figure was going to pop in and that they needed to put on a show. Sadly, smash-and-grab conquests for impressionable Ugandan tennis players are few and far between, if any.
Prevailing conditions don’t seem to provide fertile ground for that many overhead volleys. Unforced errors are instead raked in droves!
Last year, your columnist had the chance to pick the mind of Ugandan tennis stalwart John Oduke. An odd tennis tournament named Friday Explosion was being launched at the LTC. The tournament was supposed to see players vie for a paltry but nonetheless commendable Shs100,000 each Friday. Oduke, clad in a whitish sweatshirt, charcoal black polyester pair of shorts, and black trainers, had a sparkle in his eye. It was like he was sensing a crucial break.
A crosscourt winner, perhaps. Ugandan tennis is turning the corner, he told me barely hiding a grin.
I was much less optimistic. I wondered why no protracted attempt was being made by the Uganda Lawn Tennis Association (ULTA) to use schools as vehicle to popularise the sport.
Why don’t we, for instance, have a schools tennis competition similar to the Copa Coca-Cola schools tournament, I asked. It’s in the pipeline, a work in progress, Oduke stuttered.
I wasn’t convinced. I also expressed concern about the pencil thin ULTA calendar. Tournaments are being lined up, Oduke responded, pointing to the Friday Explosion.
Three Fridays later, the tournament was no more. It had suffered a stillbirth. It isn’t alone. Ugandan tennis is in comatose.
Court’s recent visit and words of support might have jolted it to life, but it won’t be long before it slips back into the abyss.
Residence: Perth, Western Australia
Born: July 16, 1942 (age 71)
Height: 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Turned pro: 1960
Played as: Right-handed (1-handed backhand)
Australian Open: (1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973)
French Open: (1962, 1964, 1969, 1970, 1973)
Wimbledon: (1963, 1965, 1970)
US Open (1962, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1973)
Australian Open: (1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973)
French Open: (1964, 1965, 1966, 1973)
Wimbledon: (1964, 1969)
US Open: (1963, 1968, 1970, 1973, 1975)
Cranes could do with more incisiveness
So, the national football team, The Cranes, finds itself stuck in a rut, staring down the barrel of a gun! Uganda’s 2-1 first leg loss in a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) pre-qualifier on the island country of Madagascar means The Cranes have it all to do.