PARIS, May 30 (Reuters) - When Kevin Anderson takes to the court to face Milos Raonic in the third round of the French Open on Friday he will not just be representing his nation but a vast continent.
The 6ft 8in South African is the only man from Africa currently in the world’s top 100 and there are only two from the continent in the top 200.
On the women’s side only 61st-ranked Chanelle Scheepers, a first-round loser at Roland Garros, is the only African woman competing in the higher echelons of the sport.
There are obvious social and economic reasons why tennis has not established roots in Africa, yet Anderson hopes that he can start to raise the profile of the sport there.
“I hope by continuing to do well here people get to see that it’s possible to make it from Africa,” Anderson, ranked a career-high 25th in the world after an impressive year which started by reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open.
”Obviously South Africa has had more opportunities than some of the other countries in Africa which is unfortunate because there is a lot of interest in tennis in the continent.
”But it’s not easy because the tennis scene is in Europe and with the exchange rates it’s expensive.
“There’s no easy way in.”
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has set up training centres in Senegal and Burundi while Anderson was helped in his development by attending one in Pretoria.
He is keen to do what he can and while reaching his first ATP claycourt final in Casablanca, Morocco earlier this year took time to visit a new ITF high-performance centre which later this year will house 20 of Africa’s elite junior players.
Frank Couraud, who works on the ITF’s international development projects, said awareness of tennis was spreading.
”I was at our East Africa centre in Burundi,“ he told Reuters. ”I asked a 12-year-old girl if Serena Williams was her favourite player. She replied that she preferred (Victoria) Azarenka.
“The point is they have a lot more access to media and have experience watching matches.”
Morocco has provided several top players down the years including Younes El Aynaoui, who reached two grand slam quarter-finals, and Hicham Arazi, once a Roland Garros quarter-finalist.
However, few African-based players have come through since and Anderson said he was encouraged by new developments like the one he saw while in north Africa.
“It was great playing in Morocco this year and seeing that there is an ITF centre that they started there,” he said.
”I played a lot at the ITF centre in Pretoria growing up so hopefully that will help them regain their strength.
”It was just good to support the kids and see them and meet them and it definitely makes it easier for them if they can see someone who they can follow in the top 100.
“Hopefully if I can inspire people to play tennis in Africa that would be great.”
While Anderson is the lone warrior in the senior singles events here, several African juniors are hoping to make a mark.
South African Wayne Montgomery is 11th in the junior world rankings while 15-year-old Egyptian Sandra Samir is playing in the girls singles.
For now Anderson’s priority is beating Raonic to reach the French Open last 16 for the first time.
Both are giants, have huge serves and powerful forehands.
“It will be a different type of tennis,” said Anderson who did not drop serve in his four-set victory in the second round against Evgeny Donskoy.
“We are similar in that we both have big serves so it will be about taking what chances come along.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Justin Palmer)