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Essay: Africa’s Tennis Talent, Though Obscure, Is Thriving

Ben Makhlouf’s colleague Thierry Ntwali, a Rwandan who runs the I.T.F.’s East Africa training center, told me, “It’s possible to get our best players in the top 50, top 20, in I.T.F. juniors rankings.”

Ntwali’s best evidence is Sada Nahimana, a 15-year-old girl from Burundi. Nahimana has won continental championships three times, and excluding South Africans, she is the highest-ranked junior from sub-Saharan Africa, at No. 176.

“We feel that around the age of 17, she will be top 50,” Ntwali said.

At Wimbledon this year, Serena Williams was asked if she was surprised that so few African women played on the world tour. “Yes,” she replied.

Williams, who has conducted clinics on the continent, said she saw “so much talent.”

She added, “There has to be, one day, a player from Africa that can do really well.”

A Setback, or Worse

I sat with Habiyambere one morning at Cercle Sportif’s bar. He spoke imperfect English, a reflection of spotty schooling in Rwanda, which has spurned French. Although English became an official language after the 1994 genocide — English-speaking exiles toppled the perpetrating government…

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