By Ellina Mhlanga
The history of Zimbabwean tennis will not be complete without mentioning the Black siblings, who played a huge role, in putting the country on the sporting map.
The sport enjoyed global attention, during the days of the Black brothers, Byron and Wayne, and their sister Cara, when the trio were at the peak of their careers.
Byron and Wayne formed the core of the Zimbabwe Davis Cup team, leading the country to the World Group, in the late 1990s. It was the highest level the country’s Davis Cup team ever reached.
The Black brothers were the mainstay of the team which beat Austria, in the World Group Qualifying round in 1997, at the City Sports Centre. Zimbabwe won 3-2, to qualify for the prestigious World Group, for the first time. They went into the 1998 World Group edition as underdogs. However, they pulled a surprise, writing a landmark success story, in the process.
Zimbabwe took on favourites Australia at Mildura and went into the reverse singles 1-2 down.
But, Byron and Wayne rose to the occasion, winning the reverse singles, to take the tie 3-2, causing a big upset.
The team’s efforts were recognised when they won the SuperSport award that same year. The victory saw them advancing to the quarter-finals, where they lost 5-0 to Italy.
However, reaching the World Group remains a major highlight for the country, in Davis Cup, since our first participation, in 1963. Zimbabwe competed in the World Group up to 2000.
And, as the nation celebrates 41 years of Independence, the way the Blacks defined local tennis, will always be appreciated.
Such achievements remain a reminder to all of us that, with determination and commitment, there are always possibilities, for a happy ending.
Apart from playing key roles with the Davis Cup team, Byron and Wayne also did well, as individuals asserting themselves as the country’s leading players.
Byron played for the country’s Davis Cup team for 15 years, from 1987 to 2002, before he retired a year later.
On the professional circuit Byron won two Association of Tennis Professionals tour singles titles in Seoul, South Korea, in 1996 and Chennai, India, in 1999.
He also got 22 doubles titles, including his one and only Grand Slam title, which he won when he lifted the men’s doubles title with American Jonathan Stark at the French Open, in 1994.
His brother Wayne remained with the Davis Cup team for a few more years, before he also called time on an illustrious career, in 2006.
Among the accolades he picked, Wayne won two men’s doubles Grand Slam titles, at the US Open in 2001, and in 2005, at the Australian Open, with Kevin Ullyet.
He also claimed two Grand Slam mixed doubles, when he partnered with his sister, Cara.
Wayne came out of retirement in 2015 to help the Davis Cup team in their Euro/Africa Group II tie against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Their sister Cara also followed in their footsteps, making a name for herself, and remains the best, and most successful female tennis player, to emerge from this country.
Her achievements were an inspiration to many young girls, who wanted to join the sport, as she wrote her success story, on the global stage.
Cara has five Grand Slam women’s doubles titles to her name, winning the Wimbledon three times, the Australian Open once and the US Open.
She also has five Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, including the two she won with Wayne.
In April 2009, ESPN, featured the Blacks among the top five families in world tennis.
1. Marat Safin and Dinara Safina
‘‘The nod for top spot goes to the Russians for their historic No. 1 achievement.
They were born into a tennis family: Their mom, Rausa Islanova, is a coach and dad, Misha, is the director of a tennis club. Safin has won 15 titles, including the 2000 U.S. Open as a fresh-faced 20-year-old, and the 2005 Australian Open, plus reached the Australian final two other times. Dinara fell short in her first two Grand Slam finals, at the French and Australian Opens the past 12 months. The owner of nine singles titles, Dinara promises she’ll deliver a Grand Slam trophy to the family jewels soon.’’
2.Emilio Sanchez, Javier Sanchez, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
‘‘Three family talents are certainly better than just two. Arantxa outshined the brothers by simultaneously holding the No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles in 1995, and her two silver and two bronze Olympic medals are the most a Spanish athlete has ever won. Arantxa captured four singles and six doubles trophies at the Grand Slams, winning an overall 29 singles and 69 doubles titles. Emilio, who was ranked as high as No. 7 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, won 15 singles and 50 doubles titles as well as the 1987 French Open mixed doubles event. Javier, who ranked No 23 in singles and No. 9 in doubles, won four singles and 26 doubles honours.’’
3. Cliff Richey, Nancy Richey
‘‘In 1970, the Texans became the first brother-sister duo to rank No 1 in the US. Nancy was more successful: She won two Slam championships and 69 titles total. She was the only player to win the US Clay Court title six times (1963-68). Cliff, who achieved a career-high ranking of 16, won 10 singles titles.’’
4. Byron Black, Wayne Black, Cara Black
‘‘The Blacks of Zimbabwe became an established powerhouse in doubles, although all three enjoyed admirable singles rankings (Cara No. 31, Byron No. 22 and Wayne No. 69). Cara and Byron were No. 1 in doubles; Wayne topped out at No 4 Cara’s already won five Grand Slam doubles titles – three at Wimbledon – among her 48 doubles trophies.
Wayne captured the 2001 US and 2005 Australian Opens and 16 additional doubles titles. Byron’s 1994 French Open doubles trophy is the most prestigious among his 22 tandem titles. Cara and Wayne teamed for the mixed doubles championships at the French Open (2002) and Wimbledon (2004).’’
5.Jeff Austin, John Austin, Tracy Austin
‘‘Tracy, the family baby, achieved greatness when she became No 1 for the first time in April 1980, thereby eclipsing the four-year stranglehold that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova had on the top position. She won the US Open in 1979 and ‘81, and 28 other singles titles.
Brother Jeff ranked No 52 in singles and scored a singles and doubles title. John made it to No. 70 in the singles rankings, won one doubles trophy and teamed with Tracy to claim the 1980 Wimbledon mixed doubles event.’ The Herald