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Another Fed Cup milestone as SA beat Malta

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The South African Fed Cup team gained promotion to Europe/Africa Group 2 in 2019 when they ousted Malta 2-1 in Montenegro on Thursday.

Playing in the playoff promotional tie of the four-day Europe/Africa Group 3 tournament at the Ulcinj Bellevue in Ulcinj, South Africa came from 0-1 down to beat a strong Malta side who had upset second seed Morocco to earn the playoff spot against South Africa.

In the opening singles rubber, Francesca Curmi of Malta was in sparkling form and dominated in her 6-1, 6-0 win over South Africa’s Katie Poluta. In a rubber that lasted only 56 minutes, Curmi hit 55 winners to Poluta’s 23 and converted seven of eleven break point opportunities which overall made the difference. Also, Curmi was serving well, especially on the first serve and 81% of first serve points were won by the Maltese No 2.

With Malta leading the tie 1-0, the hopes of South Africans once again rested on the shoulders of Chanel Simmonds. Simmonds did not disappoint, the South African No 1 went out strong against the tricky Elaine Genovese.

Simmonds lost only one game in securing the opening set 6-1 and kept the pressure and momentum going in the second set, breaking serve twice and racing to a 5-1 lead. But Genovese was not going to give up the fight. She broke back and held serve to trail Simmonds 3-5.

The Maltese then made a remarkable comeback. She held serve in the ninth game and broke Simmonds’ serve a game later to level the set at 5-5. The set went into the tie-breaker at 6-6. Simmonds regrouped and got back into her groove, dominating the breaker 7-1, which finally gave her victory over the Maltese 6-1, 7-6 (7-1) in 1 hour 46 minutes to level the tie at 1-1.

So it was left to the doubles to decide the tie and promotion into Europe/Africa Group 2.

South African captain Rene Plant then called up birthday girl Madrie Le Roux, the team’s doubles specialist, to partner with Simmonds to do duty for the country in the final and deciding rubber. On Wednesday, Le Roux and Simmonds clinched the tie in the deciding doubles rubber against the fancied Finland team so Plant was hoping her charges would deliver the same against Malta.

And deliver the South African pair did. They went out firing, winning the rubber 6-1, 6-1 in an impressive 49 minutes, giving South Africa the victory.

SA’s 2-1 win made Plant a very happy captain afterwards, ‘Katie’s opponent played really well. Chanel dug deep and once again handled the pressure extremely well to win her singles. Madrie and Chanel then played an unbelievable two sets of doubles, where they totally dominated their opposition. Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!’

Photo: From left to right: Chanel Simmonds, Katie Poluta, Madrie Le Roux, Rene Plant (Captain), Minette Van Vreden, and Lungile Ntuli, by Tennis South Africa


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