Once one of South Africa’s most successful tennis players (Wimbledon and US Open mixed doubles champion and a career-high singles rank of no.7 in the world), these days you’re likely to find Greer Leo-Smith ( neé Stevens) participating in South African competitive fly fishing events, figuring out yellowfish both in Gabon and at home, or kicking back in the bush.
The first fish I remember catching was a bass with my eldest son and father-in-law on our farm in Pietermaritzburg.
I grew up in Pietermaritzburg. I was based out of Boston in the USA during my tennis career. After I got married, we lived on our farm in the Umgeni Valley in KwaZulu-Natal. Then my husband Kevin started putting farms together to form Phinda Game Reserve so we moved there for a couple of years, then Kwando Safaris in Maun, Botswana, followed by Johannesburg and now the Rietspruit Game Reserve in Hoedspruit.
The most satisfying fish I ever caught was a yellowfish on the Nyanga River in Gabon.
I’ve had many different jobs/roles. Professional tennis player. Mother. Owner of Eagle Air in Botswana. Head of performance tennis and coaching for South African Tennis. Fed Cup Captain. I now have Greer’s Sport and Cycling/Giant Hoedspruit.
On a typical day I am up early then I head into the shop. Every evening I go on a game drive with my husband Kevin on the Rietspruit Game Reserve. If the chance arises, I sneak off fishing either on the Blyde River or I travel to Nooitgedacht Trout Lodge or the Sabie River.
My home waters would be the Blyde River below the Blyde Dam in Mpumalanga. Hoedspruit Fly Fishing Club now has some water on the Blyde River and we are very grateful to the farmers who allow us to fish on their properties. It is tough fishing as the Lowveld yellows are very challenging and we are still trying to crack the code. If this is not challenging enough, we have to be on the lookout for crocs and hippos.
The best advice I have ever been given is to believe in yourself. If you have the dream, you can make it happen.
What I am most proud of is probably not giving up on a dream. After a major knee injury in 1978 everyone said I would never compete again. Eight months later I came back wearing a big brace. I beat Chris Evert (world Number One at the time) in the first round of the 1979 Virginia Slims of Hollywood event and then went on to win the tournament. I was never out of the top Ten ladies ranking for the rest of my career.
If the chance arises, I sneak off fishing either on the Blyde River or I travel to Nooitgedacht Trout Lodge or the Sabie River.
Something I have had to work at in life is to stay focused. If I am not interested in something, I kind of get easily distracted. What’s come naturally to me is sport. If I have a passion for something I can normally achieve some success.
The most satisfying fish I ever caught was a yellowfish on the Nyanga River in Gabon. It was an amazing experience as no one had fly fished the river before. Trying to find out what fly to use was challenging. In the end I went for a mop fly (I know the purist are shocked) as it resembled the palms that were fruiting at the time.
Read the rest of Greer’s Lifer in issue 31 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.