Tennis pro: Everard Groenewald’s journey from Cape Town
Teaching now takes center court for South African native and international tennis champion Everard Groenewald
“It’s just another day in paradise,” according to Everard Groenewald, tennis pro and Rolling Hills resident. Chances are you’ve spotted the former international tennis champion at local clubs and courts around town. Sporting an award winning smile—and style—Groenewald is hard to miss. As tennis director for the City of Rolling Hills, he’s been teaching tennis on “the hill” for the past twenty years.
Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa’s whites-only region under apartheid, Groenewald spent his childhood surrounded by racial segregation, but also by wildflowers, mountains and South African bush. South Africa is home to legendary national parks, exclusive game reserves and the “big five”: lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffalo. South African wildlife played as much a role in Groenewald’s upbringing as the thoroughbred stallions and racehorses on his parents’ multi-acre horse farm.
It was an isolated existence, Groenewald remembers, far removed from a traditional American upbringing. Attending an all-boys school an hour and a half away from the family farm by bus, Groenewald was a painfully shy student, lacking the confidence, humor and personality for which he is now known. Although Cape Town is now a multicultural harbor and home to anti-apartheid leaders such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, his childhood was marked by apartheid. His childhood companions were children of local Zulu tribal members, workers on the family horse farm.
Groenewald didn’t always want to be a tennis star, but a jockey—a fact he attributes to an early love of animals, especially horses. At 6 feet, 6 inches and 230 pounds, however, it’s difficult to imagine him racing anything but luxury sports cars; his favorite ride these days is a Maserati Gran Turismo.
“When my father told me I was too big to be a jockey, I cried,” he relates. In hindsight, he credits this painful childhood memory for developing his social skills, athletic growth, and future tennis career.
He didn’t sport a tennis racquet until the age of ten. Almost completely self-taught, his distinctive style grew from imitation, practicing form and tennis technique from books and magazines. He also watched a lot of tennis on television. After his father brought home a television in the early 1970s, he watched Wimbledon for hours on South Africa’s only channel. He idolized John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, long regarded as the first rock stars of tennis, emulating their distinctive appearance and technique. He practiced for hours on the court his father built, soon playing regional and national juniors tournaments, beating the best players in South Africa. By the time he was 18, Groenewald was one of the top three players in the country in the 18 and under division, joining the professional circuit and earning a tennis scholarship at the University of Miami. Unfortunately, the South African Army had other plans—mandatory two-year military service for all white males.
Despite appeals, his service included initial training to fight in the Border War (1966-1989), a war exacerbated by apartheid policy of the time. Like many events in his life, however, the conflict he faced came mostly on the tennis court. Stationed at the Castle of Good Hope, a medieval fortification built by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, and former local headquarters for the South African Army of the Western Cape, Groenewald spent his days outside of armed duty, working as a military cartographer making maps. He perfected his tennis game on the fortress courts at night.
Tournaments in Spain, Germany and France followed his military discharge. Always a self-starter, he picked up prize money and tournament titles, along with occasional modeling assignments. “Life was so different then, on the tour,” he says. “We used to have a little bit more fun.” But after five years in Paris playing the European circuit and partying in Parisian nightclubs, Groenewald was ready to move on.
The best teachers are often storytellers, and Groenewald’s lessons are flavored with stories from his past, playing with the likes of country western singer Kenny Rogers, Groenewald says he’s a decent shot; comedian Gene Wilder and Lawrence Summers, American economist and former 71st United States Secretary of the Treasury.
Nowadays, it’s more about teaching than playing or partying. Since moving to Los Angeles 20 years ago, teaching takes center court. Having spent his childhood surrounded by nature, Groenewald prefers the natural paradise of Palos Verdes, eventually relocating to the Peninsula based on the hill’s reputation for terrific tennis and serving up professional stars such as Tracey Austin, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, the youngest-ever male player to win a Grand Slam singles title at the French Open.
“It’s how well you play, but also how well you teach,” Groenewald relates, serving up an emphasis on technique, or what he calls “le look”, flawless form and professional mannerisms. Just don’t mistake style over substance, however. From the zen of tennis to problem solving, his energy and inspiration are infectious and fun. Some of his students have hit balls with him for more than twenty years and he’s taken beginning players to Division 1 scholarships or successful college tennis. With Groenewald, private or semi-private lessons and group workouts are as much about sports philosophy and psychology as tennis tips, along with overall health, fitness, nutrition, and disease and injury prevention. Children, especially, benefit as much from focusing on lifetime fitness, self-esteem, sporting behavior and Groenewald’s relaxed instructional style as footwork, ground stokes, serves and volleys.
“Tennis has always been about talent, but now has also become a very physical sport. It’s as much about how good you are as it is about avoiding injuries due to the physicality of the sport. Look at the way Nadal moves, it’s absolutely astounding. What happened is athletes now push themselves beyond the natural evolution of the body.”
Nowadays, when he’s not on the courts, you can spot him cross training at Equinox Gym or shopping at Whole Foods. In fact, Groenewald keeps on top of his game with his latest project, the revolutionary Klaas Vaki, Afrikaner for Sand Man, sleep system; an innovative, full body sleep support designed for injury-prone athletes, lower back problems and overall positive living. Made and manufactured in Cape Town, the product is available locally through www.backpaindotgone.com.
So what advice does Groenewald give for Palos Verdes parents guiding their children through the world of competitive tennis? “The word that comes to mind is ‘lighthearted,’” he says. “And to have fun. It’s fun that makes kids come onto the court, stay and play. No one had to force me to play as a kid,” he relates. “Actually, my parents had to force me off the courts after two, three, four hours. The energy for the game comes from the fun.”