An African Games team member and two AUSC Region 5 Games players have been named in Tennis South Africa’s Fed Cup squad for national duty in Montenegro next month, writes MARK ETHERIDGE.
Former pro player Rene Plant has announced her squad will battle for promotion into the Euro/Africa Zone Group II.
Chanel Simmonds was part of team South Africa at the 2011 African Games in Maputo, Mozambique while Katie Poluta and Minette van Vreden were in the 2014 and 2016 Region 5 Games in Bulawayo, Harare and Luanda, Angola respectively.
The other members of the team are veteran doubles specialist Maddie le Roux and teenage talent Lungile Ntuli.
Fed Cup rules dictate that Plant will have to nominate a four-player team from her squad of five ahead of the commencement of the tournament. These four nominated players will then participate as team South Africa for the entire tournament. Changes may be made to the singles and doubles for each rubber played by Plant from the four players.
The team will be playing in the Euro/Africa Zone Group III tournament alongside 20 other countries. The countries have been split into two groups. One group will be playing in Tunisia (10 countries) and the other group in Montenegro (10 countries). The countries at each venue will be drawn into two pools and a round robin will be played within each pool with each tie consisting of two singles and a doubles rubber. The pool winners will then play out for promotion to the Euro/Africa Zone Group II.
Two countries will earn promotion, one team from Tunisia and the other from Montenegro.
The Montenegro tournament will be contested by hosts Montenegro as well as South Africa, Andorra, Cameroon, Finland, Ireland, Kenya, Malta, Morocco and Uganda.
Speaking from Austin, Texas where she’s based and busy with her third year of a nutritional science degree, Poluta told Team SA: ‘I’m very excited about the upcoming Fed Cup tie. It has definitely been a goal of mine to be a part of the Fed Cup team and compete on an international level. At the moment we are in the middle of the college team season, which is our main season.
‘I’m at at the University of Texas and we’re doing very well, we are currently ranked 8 in Division 1. I feel very fortunate to be on a tennis scholarship at such a prestigious university where I can earn a degree while improving my level of tennis.
‘Fortunately, my college coach and the university have been very supportive and are allowing me to miss some college matches and two weeks of school to join the team in Montenegro. I’m able to get really good preparation here for the Fed Cup since we are playing matches every weekend which will prepare me in the best way possible for the upcoming tie.
‘Rene has been very supportive and her determination to remodel women’s tennis in South Africa is very exciting. We have discussed my goals of playing in entry-level professional tournaments with the eventual goal of earning a ranking and progressing to the next level after I have finished with college tennis.
‘I feel honoured to have been chosen to be part of the squad and can’t wait to join the team in Montenegro to compete for South Africa!’
Simmonds, South Africa’s highest ranked women’s player will spearhead the challenge. After suffering an injury early last year, she bounced back strongly towards the end of 2017, enjoying good runs in Senegal and Stellenbosch at the Digicall Futures.
Le Roux, like Simmonds, is a seasoned Fed Cup campaigner. She’s played 18 ties for the country since 2011 and won the African Junior doubles championships back in 2016 with fellow countrywoman, Ilze Hattingh.
Van Vreden, a South African Masters and National champion has dominated the junior game and, like Poluta, makes her Fed Cup debut.
Ntuli of Cape Town is one of the brightest prospects in women’s tennis in the country. Born in London, Ntuli moved to South Africa with her parents and was based in Pretoria before moving to Cape Town. Aged just 17, Ntuli is a provincial player and was selected for the South African High Schools team.
Joining the squad in Montenegro will be former South African Davis Cup player, Tucker Vorster, who will act as hitting partner and manager and Karen Frye who will be the team physiotherapist.
The squad will travel early to Montenegro to prepare for the Fed Cup clash, acclimatising to the conditions and clay court surface.
Plant confirmed that she would be holding a pre-departure doubles camp using former ATP doubles specialist, Jeff Coetzee, to add value to the doubles games of the selected team, ‘Doubles are a key part of every Fed Cup tie and we need to leave South Africa knowing that our girls are best prepared for any rubber-winning doubles rubber.’
Plant said that her selection process was based on the ‘Next Gen’ idea, ‘We need to start building for the future. It’s no secret that the women’s game in the country in recent years has been challenged. We don’t have any more players in the top 200 of the world and that makes our efforts in Fed Cup difficult. So either than drawing on the experience of Chanel and Madrie, we’ll need to develop the next generation of players and groom them to assist the country to regain its status in women’s tennis.’
The idea Plant has is to draw players from a bigger base being junior, university, senior and professional ranks.
After the Fed Cup in April, Plant, together with TSA, will hold a Fed Cup camp from 28 June-1 July at the Bryanston Sports Club in Johannesburg. The aim of the camp is to develop some depth for selection opportunities going forward, to get players to network with each other, to create a bigger base of players to work with and to create energy and enthusiasm among all the female players in South Africa. A ‘Next Gen’ tournament will be held in conjunction with the camp and this will allow for a few head-to-head results.