Not based anywhere in particular, PIPPA Francis writes the blog, Phambili. 
Her posts explore people, places and the politics of it all.

Sponsored socks and serving

Sponsored socks and serving


My mother handed me a pair of old socks a few weeks ago.

“These aren’t mine,” I said.
“They are yours. You left them at home when you moved overseas for the first time,” she said.

I had a good look at the pair of yellowed, used-to-be-white, men’s socks. Sewn into each one were the words “Alfa Romeo”.

And then it all came back to me in flash of no-doubt embellished memories.

You see, while we think we have preserved the special moments from our childhood in perfect detail, it seems our memories are “more like a collage, pieced together sometimes crudely with the occasional embellishment or even outright fabrication” (

Apparently, according to the same online article, even people with exceptional memories are susceptible to making things up without knowing they are doing it.

So for those I share this memory and others with, forgive me my creative “remembering”.


The socks were actually just one part of a whole sponsored outfit; oversized white men’s shorts, a red golf shirt and cap completed the look. We were also given some retro Adidas court shoes, which I also kept in my cupboard and wore for years and years after the event. My goodness, I loved those shoes.

The event was an exhibition tennis match at Durban’s Westridge Park Stadium in November, 2001, between South Africa’s former tennis star Amanda Coetzer and the former Russian player well-known for her beautiful “bod” and blonde plaited hair, Anna Kournikova. Amanda was ranked 17th in the world and Anna was at number 22. A few of the up-and-coming junior tennis players had been selected to be ball girls and boys for the televised match. It was a great honour and most exciting, as you can imagine. I was 14 years old.

I do not remember much from the actual tennis match, except I was stuck in the back corner of the court where the television cameras did not catch sight of me (which rather disappointed me at the time). And when I threw a ball to Anna before one of her serve points, my throw was not at her desired height and the ball came flying back at me with extra speed. That is a moment I will never forget. I was humiliated.

I got in touch with Kerryn, my doubles partner in those days, and she remembers being smashed in the ear by a ball off Anna’s racquet and that she could barely walk after the match because her knees were so swollen. She was stationed as a ball girl at the net and would have certainly made an appearance on TV at least. Needless to say, we perhaps should have received more than a couple hours of training before our big day.


But we were a lucky bunch of tennis enthusiasts in those days. If memory serves me correctly, it was in 1999 that Steffi Graf also came to Durban on her farewell world exhibition tour. She held some sort of clinic for a group of the tennis juniors from around KwaZulu-Natal province.

I remember her standing at the net with a basket of balls. We waited in a line at the back of the court until it was our turn to have a rally with her. My heart still pumps when I think about how nervous we all were. My claim to fame (obviously only in my memory) was that the rally ended because Steffi hit a volley into the net. Whatever else we did that afternoon did not matter to 12-year-old me, nor does it matter to a much-older me now.

Tennis in South Africa in 2018 has experienced a rejuvenation of sorts, what with Kevin Anderson having a smashing year on the circuit, some massive career wins and competing proudly with the SA flag next to his name. Then there is wheelchair tennis ace Kgothatso Montjane, who made history for not only being the first black South African woman to play at Wimbledon but going on to make the semi-finals of the championship. Don’t forget consistent performer Raven Klaasen who made the doubles finals with Kiwi partner Michael Venus at the same tournament.

I hope that tennis in South Africa may once again get to the level where junior players and spectators are able to experience the wonder of regularly watching great talent in their own cities and provinces. But most of all, I hope there are a few more young people who will grow up to have wonderful memories (false, embellished or otherwise) and tales to tell of the game which keeps on giving.

Sport, and tennis in particular, has afforded me some incredible memories, whether it was university tours, coaching three-year-olds in London for a couple of weeks to pay my rent, playing in the mountains of Gyeongsangbuk-do in South Korea with all the male staff at a tiny middle school, league matches on rooftops in Hong Kong, Wednesday social tennis in the Lowveld or good old Saturday afternoons at the Victoria Park Tennis Club in Port Elizabeth.  

And I think those Alfa Romeo socks may just have to come with me on my next adventure.  

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“Life’s short. Catch a tan (in Colchester)!”

“Life’s short. Catch a tan (in Colchester)!”

The serendipity of travel

The serendipity of travel