South African tennis star Amanda Coetzer epitomised the saying: “Dynamite comes in small packages”. She stands only 1.58 metres tall, but her heart was one of the biggest on the WTA Tour, and her never-say-die attitude reaped big rewards in a career that began back in 1988 and lasted 16 years.
In an age when top tennis players became bigger and stronger and relied increasingly on the power game, Coetzer was a throwback to the glory days ruled by players like Billie Jean King, Chris Evert-Lloyd, Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin.
Coetzer stands only 1.58 metres (5 feet 2 inches) tall, but she was all heart, known for being super-fit, for being a tenacious fighter, for chasing down every ball, and for giving the game her all.
Although she failed to make a big impression early in her career, Coetzer improved her world ranking from 153 in 1988 to 63 in 1989. She fell back a little the following year to 75, but rose again to 67 in 1991. In that year she reached the final of a WTA event for the first time, losing to second-seed Julie Halard-Decugis in the Puerto Rican Open after disposing of the first and third seeds on her way to the title match.
Racing up the rankings
In 1992 Coetzer climbed 50 places in the world rankings to 17. She made the semi-finals of two big tournaments, in Boca Raton and at the Italian Open, her scalps including sixth-seed Jennifer Capriati in the American tournament and third-seed Gabriella Sabatini in Rome. She also claimed two doubles titles, one in Toronto and the other in Puerto Rico. Tennis Magazine named her the year’s Most Improved Female Player.
Coetzer finally broke through in 1993, winning her first WTA Tour title at the Melbourne Open. She added another title in Tokyo, upsetting second-seed Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the semi-finals and beating hometown favourite Kimoko Date in the finals. She edged up to 15 in the world rankings, and was nominated for the tour’s sportsmanship award.
The South African ace claimed another tournament victory in Prague in 1994, justifying her top seeding by advancing to the title without dropping a set, and added to her triumph by securing the doubles title with Linda Harvey Wild. At Indian Wells she beat third-seed Lindsay Davenport on her way to the finals, where she was stopped by German great Steffi Graf. Once again the little South African was nominated for the WTA Tour’s sportsmanship award.
Beating a number one
At Toronto in 1995 Coetzer made it through to the finals, where she was beaten by Monica Seles, but her path to the title decider included three huge wins, over top-seed Graf, fourth-seed Jana Novotna and fifth-seed Mary Pierce. Her win over Graf ended a run of 32 victories in succession for the German and marked Coetzer’s first win over a number one ranked player.
Teaming with Innes Gorrochategui, she won doubles titles at Amelia Island and at the German Open in Munich. At the conclusion of the season the WTA Tour presented her with the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship award.
Coetzer achieved another first early in 1996, getting through to the semi-finals of a Grand Slam event for the first time at the Australian Open. She also reached the final of the tour event in Oklahoma City. Playing with Mary Pierce, she won the doubles event at the Nichirei tournament in Tokyo.
1997 proved to be the best year of Coetzer’s career as she rose to a career-high third position in the world rankings. At the Australian Open she again beat Steffi Graf, ending her opponent’s winning streak at 45 matches and prompting the Australian press to nickname her “The Little Assassin.” She went on to reach the final four of the tournament for the second year in succession.
Later in the year, Coetzer handed the German her worst defeat ever, a 6-0, 6-1 thrashing on home ground in Berlin. When Coetzer defeated Graf in the quarterfinals of the French Open she became one of only five players since 1987 to beat Graf three times in a year.
Into the top 10
The South African fighter then moved into the world’s top 10 for the first time when she won the WTA event in Budapest. She also won the doubles title with Alexandra Fusai.
At Leipzig she defeated world number one Martina Hingis, only the third loss the Swiss star had suffered in 69 matches. This win made her one of only two players – the other was Lindsay Davenport – to beat both Hingis and Graf when they were ranked number one. For good measure, Coetzer added another tournament victory in Luxembourg.
After her memorable year three awards followed for Coetzer, the most awards received by a single player in the history of the WTA Tour. She was named Most Improved Player, picked up the Diamond ACES award recognising player/fan interaction and, for the second time, laid claim to the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship award. She had travelled far to reach these heights, averaging 500 kilometres a day by the time she made it to the season-ending Chase Championships!
Her world ranking fell in 1998, but she managed to land the biggest title of her career, winning at Hilton Head in an event that attracted the world’s best players – the first time in 19 years that a South African tennis player had won an event of such magnitude.
Defeated number ones
In 1999 she was the only player to take a set off Australian Open champion Martina Hingis in Melbourne, bowing out in the fourth round of the Grand Slam event. Then, in Tokyo, she beat world number one Lindsay Davenport and former world number one Monica Seles on her way to the finals, where she lost to Hingis. Coetzer was also runner-up in Oklahoma City and reached the final four at Eastbourne, Stanford and San Diego.
She made the finals at Antwerp and in Munich at the German Open in 2000, and made the semi-finals in New Haven and Oklahoma City. She achieved the same feat in Hamburg, where she accounted for world number three Venus Williams.
Coetzer reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2001, her first last eight in a Grand Slam event since the 1998 US Open. In a dramatic match against Williams she eventually succumbed 8-6 in the third set of a closely contested tie.
In February she won her eighth WTA title, defeating world number 10 Elena Dementieva in Acapulco. At Amelia Island she reached the finals where she lost to Amelie Mauresmo. In Hamburg, she made the final four, and the following week she recorded her five-hundredth career win, defeating Meghann Shaughnessy, who had beaten her the week before.
In Luxembourg, she reached the semi-finals and then won her first doubles title in four years with Lori McNeil in Oklahoma City. The pair again tasted success in Bahia.
A decade of excellence
She slipped two places in the end-of-year world rankings in 2002 to twenty-first place as she failed to land a title. It was the first time in a decade that she ended the year outside the world’s top 20.
However, in 2003 she landed the final victory of her career, capturing the Mexican Open for the second time, in the holiday playground of Acapulco.
In total, Coetzer won nine singles and nine doubles titles and accumulated over $5.5-million in career earnings. She was also one of the more popular players on the WTA tour.
She represented South Africa at three Olympic Games – Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney – and played on the South African Fed Cup team as its number one player.
Her grit, determination and give-it-all attitude continue to made her one of the more popular players in the game.
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