26 September 2013
Thomas Hogstedt, one of the world’s leading tennis coaches, has identified two South African sisters as potential future Grand Slam champions and has taken them under his wing.
The Swede, who has guided the likes of Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Caroline Wozniacki to the pinnacle of their careers, was invited by Tennis South Africa to conduct a clinic in Stellenbosch last November. At the clinic, he came across then 10-year-old Zoe Kruger, who immediately caught his eye.
“I saw from the first day I could transform Zoe Kruger into one of the best players in the world,” Hogstedt said in a statement on Wednesday.
He then discovered that Kruger, who comes from Pretoria, had an equally talented younger sister, Isabella, who is just eight years old.
Hogstedt has an uncanny ability to recognise what it takes to turn a pre-teenager into a champion, as he proved when coaching Wozniacki as a 13-year-old. He took her to number one in the world.
“Zoe plays an aggressive game from the baseline, but she can play with high spin and angles. She also likes to come to the net and serves well, so she has a great all-around game and has a liking for all surfaces,” he said.
“Isabella reminds me of Martina Hingis. She plays a very fast, flat game and has great feel for the ball. Her favourite shot is the volley, but she also hits a very good drop shot.”
Hogstedt comes to South Africa whenever he is able to, but has a coaching team who work with the girls when he can’t travel. The girls also go to his facility in Sweden for training camps and he and his coaching team travel with the girls when they play on the international circuit.
Zoe has no peers in her age group in South Africa, which she demonstrated by winning the SA National Under-12 Championship when she was just 10 years old. Last month she reached the final of an under-12 tournament in Canada, winning five of her six matches.
“She has worked fantastically during the time since we met. When we started in November she lost to the number 42 in Canada and a month ago she beat the Canadian number one,” said Hogstedt.
Zoe also helped South Africa to a third place finish in the under-12 team championship in Canada.
One of the best
Isabella is already regarded as one of the best eight-year-old players in the world. She reached the final of the highly regarded Little Mo tournament in the under-eight age group when she was just seven and lost the final in three sets to Russia’s number one player.
Hogstedt knows what it takes to play at highest level of the game. In his 14-year professional career he managed wins over all three Swedish players who were ranked number one in the world at some stage during their careers: Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg.
He also defeated other number one ranked players like Pat Rafter, Jim Courier, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Guillermo Vilas. He won the US Open Junior event in 1981 and reached a career-high ranking of number 38 in the world.
As a coach he has worked with some of the top names in the sport, including Germany’s Tommy Haas and Nicolas Kiefer. Hogstedt also coached three top Swedes Jonas Bjorkman (career high world number 4), Magnus Norman (ranked 2) and Thomas Johansson (ranked 9).
His almost three-year coaching relationship with Maria Sharapova came to an end in July this year.
Looking ahead, he said: “I took Wozniacki, Li Na and Sharapova to the top. Next it will be two young sisters from South Africa, Zoe and Isabella Kruger, who I will make Grand Slam champions for South Africa.”