She flew in to Morocco on her own and in many ways under the radar but Chanel Simmonds is determined to make a noise when the tennis competition starts in Rabat on Friday, writes GARY LEMKE.
Simmonds is a born fighter and has overcome injuries which left her on the sidelines of 2018 and for the early part of 2019, but she arrived with purpose and isn’t feeling the pressure of being Team SA’s sole tennis player at the African Games.
There’s still a long way to go to get back to the heights of 2013 when Simmonds, then still 20 years old, reached a career-high singles ranking of 158, but the left-hander is determined to get back to where she belongs. And that is certainly a lot higher than her current ranking, but the now 27-year-old is keen to start making up for lost time.
She’s been hard at work on the ONCF Club court where the tennis competition will be played, an upmarket facility with a seating capacity of only 100 spectators. Having said that, the African Games is not a place to be able to plan too far ahead, but the South African knows she has to adopt the ‘one match at a time’ philosophy and take on the challenges as they are presented.
Some 24 hours before she was scheduled to open her African Games she still didn’t have any knowledge of her first-round opponent, nor of how the draw will pan out, and where she might be seeded.
‘It’s the same for everyone though,’ she says with a voice of reason. ‘One of my main ambitions is to represent South Africa at the Tokyo Olympics next year. So, I want to use this opportunity to help raise my game and my profile and I’m so happy to be here in Rabat.
‘I’ve played in all the Grand Slams before – the US Open was my best experience – and I’ve also represented South Africa in the Fed Cup, so it would be nice to add the Olympics to my CV. It’s definitely something I’d hold close to my heart.
‘So, this is a very important event for me. I know that the draw hasn’t been done, but irrespective of that I know that there are two Egyptian players who will be strong competition. Maiar Sherif is probably going to be the top seed for this tournament and then the Egypt No 2 Sandra Samir is also quite tough and is in form having reached a tournament final a week ago.’
Simmonds has been in the athletes village for a couple of days and has had a little while to acclimatize. Although she prefers hard courts, the clay might be a blessing in disguise for her. ‘It’s true that I grew up on hard courts and clay is different, but the last time I played on clay was in April in Turkey and I won a tournament there.
‘I do have confidence on clay, but I just need to spend enough time on it to get used to it under my feet. I’ve been to Morocco before and I don’t mind the heat – temperatures have routinely been in the 30s. If anything, playing on the clay isn’t as hot as the hard court because it doesn’t retain the heat, so that won’t be a problem.
There is no crystal ball but there is ambition, desire and strong focus.
‘Obviously I’ve come here thinking that I want to win a medal and it’s realistic for me to have that mindset. Gold? Why not? I’m confident I can get back inside the top 300 in the world; it wouldn’t be new territory for me.
‘Over the next few months I’ll bring my ranking down. I want to play Australia Open qualifying, and for that I need to be ranked 220. I’ll get there, but it won’t happen overnight, so I’m taking it one day at a time and working towards my goals.’
The ONCF Club in Rabat is as good a place to start as anywhere.