The Princeton men's tennis team made its way to South Africa for a week-long trip in early June as part of its Marx Tour series, a quadrennial venture made possible by Louis Marx Jr. '53.
The team has taken the trip every four years since 1990, most recently visiting France in 2010. Below is a recap of the trip from rising senior Zack McCourt and rising sophomore Josh Yablon:
Part 1 of 2 of trip recap
After the team's visit to the Cheetah Outreach Center, the team grabbed lunch and hit the courts for a practice session before hosting a clinic for some of Cape Town's top local junior players. The children, ranging in age from 10-14, are among South Africa's elite in their respective age divisions. With the eastern side of Cape Town's renowned Table Mountain in the background of the team's picturesque venue, the afternoon was both productive and enjoyable for the team and South African junior players alike. It was especially rewarding to see how grateful the kids were for the opportunity to play against and learn from college players.
Despite the busy day, the next item on schedule entailed a 6 a.m. departure to the quaint coastal town of Gansbaai Point, a scenic two-hour drive southwest of Cape Town. Immediately upon arrival, the team began its shark-cage diving adventure with breakfast and briefing by the diving instructors, including the crew's resident marine biologist. After receiving their wetsuits, the team boarded the boat and embarked on its daring journey to test the fortitude of a simple steel cage against the ferocity that is a Great White shark.
As it turned out, the cage did its duty and there were no casualties. Surprisingly, the fearsome sharks showed little interest in the cage, including its foreign contents (us). The bait handlers aboard the vessel would cast bait directly in front of the cage, yelling, "Divers down!" every few minutes when a shark would approach. Divers would then dip underwater to observe the approaching shark for as long as they could hold their breath. Between seal watching en route to the shark-infested waters, to hurriedly changing into wetsuits before jumping into the water, to gulping down saltwater out of shark-viewing excitement, the day's activity was too fast-paced for the more fearful members of the team to entertain much anxiety. The frigid South African waters of the Indian Ocean and its turbulent waves wouldn't leave us unscathed, however. Author's note to future seafarers: the crew showed us that mint candy alleviates nausea rather effectively; just bring enough for everyone, and don't run out.
The team's final day of the trip was again eventful as the team set off to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to board a ferry heading to the famed Robben Island. Only a 20-30 minute boat ride from the mainland, the site, home to many a seal and African penguin, is also home to the jail where the late South African president Nelson Mandela served 18 years during his 27-year imprisonment. First, a bus tour taught the team of the island's historical significance dating back over a hundred years before its days as a political prison during Apartheid. After arriving at the actual prison, a former political prisoner led a walking tour through the jail's facilities, which included a brief stop by Mandela's cell. The guide explained that Mandela captained the inmates, many of whom consisted of black political leaders including doctors, lawyers, professors and other highly educated professionals. These figures, in addition to their less prominent and sometimes illiterate inmate counterparts, were arrested during South Africa's anti-Apartheid movement.
By 1 p.m. we returned to the V&A Waterfront for lunch before heading back to the courts for a college-format match against some of South Africa's best competition. With a nearly two-hour practice preceding the four-hour match, the team's last day was yet again, nothing short of exhausting. After a total of 10 matches were contested, the Tigers came out on top to finish off the trip with a satisfying "W," capping the 2013-14 season once and for all.
The 2014 edition of the Marx Tour in South Africa sung a resounding reminder of how fortunate each member of the team is to represent Princeton at the highest level of collegiate athletics. As such, the conclusion of the trip saw the Tigers depart South Africa hungry to represent Princeton tennis better than ever before in the 2014-15 season.