5 July 2004
Way back in January 1988, at the age of 16, Amanda Coetzer turned professional. Now, after 16 years on the pro tennis circuit, she has called it quits, bringing the curtain down on a career as courageous as it was successful.
In an age when tennis equipment technology made huge advances, helping the power games of the athletes of the “new generation”, Coetzer proved that guts, physical and mental commitment, and a marvelous scrambling, thinking game could overcome the cut-and-thrust of the modern tennis superstars.
After all, Coetzer stands only 1.54 metres tall (five foot two inches) and weights about 54 kilograms. Compare that to players like Amelie Mauresmo (1.75m, 69kg) or Lindsay Davenport (1.89m, 79kg).
These are just two of the players that Coetzer competed against, more than holding her own, rising as high as third in the world rankings in November 1997.
An amazing journey
She says it was an amazing journey, being able to play the sport she loves, travel the world, and meet so many wonderful people. Through those years, Coetzer built up a considerable following, and not only in South Africa.
Who wouldn’t want to cheer her on – the little gladiator battling bigger warriors on the other side of the net?
For Coetzer to succeed she needed tremendous heart, and that heart was always in evidence on the court, a quality that simply demanded that fans cheer for her.
And let it be said, especially in an age where image is so important – why else is Anna Kournikova so well known? – that Coetzer is a very attractive athlete, even more so in person than on television.
Former world number one Martina Hingis once admitted that she hated playing Coetzer more than any other player. “Just when you think you’ve hit a winner”, she said, “the ball comes back at you, again, and again, and again.”
Coetzer acknowledges, and is grateful for, the part that fans played in making her choice of career a success. “No matter what I may do in the future, I know that tennis will always be a part of my life”, she reckons.
Coetzer’s golden year
Undoubtedly the best year of Coetzer’s career was 1997, when she reached number three in the world, winning tournaments in Budapest and Luxembourg, reaching two Grand Slam semi-finals – the French Open and Australian Open – and beating the great Steffi Graf three times.
Only five players ever managed to beat Graf three times in one year. Coetzer’s Australian Open victory over Graf brought the world number one’s 45-match winning streak to an end, and earned Coetzer the nickname that stuck, “The Little Assassin”.
Coetzer was also responsible for Graf’s worst ever defeat, a 6-1, 6-0 thrashing of the German in Berlin.
The South African star rounded off her most memorable year by becoming the first player in Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) history to win three awards: Most Improved Player, the Diamond ACES award for interaction between players and fans, and (for the second time) the Karen Krantzcke Award for Sportsmanship.
During her career, Coetzer landed nine WTA singles and nine doubles titles. Her last title came in Acupulco, Mexico in 2003, when she won the Mexican Open for the second time.
She contested 56 Grand Slam events, and represented South Africa at three consecutive Olympic Games and in numerous Fed Cup ties.
Coetzer still sees herself being involved in tennis in future. And her retirement certainly does not mean the end of her Learn Tennis, Love Tennis Foundation – she says the Foundation will remain one of her priorities.
Her personal assistant, Bruce Davidson, says her new schedule will include some relaxation time, then it will be about getting down to studying. Coetzer left school in standard eight to take up her tennis career, after which she completed her matric by correspondence. Now she wants to study further.
There is also something else that is sure to keep Coetzer occupied: romance. She has been linked with Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan, whose production list includes movies such as “LA Confidential”, “Pretty Woman”, “Fight Club”, “JFK”, “Free Willy” and “Natural Born Killers”.
Imagine that … after picking up more than R35-million in prize money during her career – not to mention her personal endorsements – Coetzer is in love with a man whose personal worth dwarfs her own considerable fortune!
Milchan is considerably older than Coetzer at 59 years of age, but who knows how love works. All that South African tennis fans know is love for the feisty player from the small Free State town of Hoopstad. She certainly made her mark on the world tennis circuit, and gave her country a player and a role model to be proud of.