Johannesburg - Rated one of South Africa's most promising up-and-coming tennis players, 19-year-old Chanel Simmonds hopes to build on a remarkable year of progress by qualifying for the Australian Open.
Simmonds, already the country's second-ranked women's tennis player behind Chani Scheepers, leaves for Melbourne on Sunday with coach Earl Grainger in a bid to qualify for her first Grand Slam event after improving her world ranking in 2011 from a modest 400th to 186th.
In the process, the Kempton Park-based prodigy won four ITF $25 000 tournaments in South Korea, Indonesia and Argentina during her first full year on the professional women's circuit.
"The ranking needed to earn a place in the women's singles qualifying rounds of the Australian Open was 197th in the world," said Grainger.
"Chanel reached this mark when she won her fourth ITF Futures tournament of the year in Argentina.
"Her progress in her first full year on the international circuit, after completing her studies in 2010, has been quite amazing."
Grainger said the step up would be tough going, but Simmonds could only grow from the experience.
"Making the main draw of the Australian Open at this stage of her development will be a real feather in her cap, but it won't be easy."
Simmonds would further intensify her schedule in 2012, Grainger added, with the aim of qualifying for some of the main WTA tournaments before the end of the year.
She also hoped to represent South Africa again in the Euro-Africa Group Two segment of the Fed Cup.
South Africa's No 1 men's and women's players, Kevin Anderson and Scheepers, ranked 32nd and 38th in the world respectively, are the only players in the country to receive direct acceptance into the main singles draws at the Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne, which starts on January 16.
Anderson, who withdrew from this week's Brisbane ATP tournament because of a niggling knee injury, is currently in New Zealand receiving treatment and preparing for a warm-up event in Auckland.
Apart from Simmonds, South African Davis Cup players Rik De Voest and Izak van der Merwe are also expected to compete in the Australian Open qualifying segment, which gets into full swing on Wednesday.