Pretoria - SA Fed Cup captain Rene Plant has named her team for the trip to Montenegro between April 16-21.
Plant, a former professional player, is working alongside Tennis South Africa (TSA) to promote, develop and improve the status of women’s tennis in the country.
After announcing her Fed Cup squad, Plant said that she had selected a balanced squad to allow South Africa the best chance of gaining promotion into the Euro/Africa Zone Group II of the Fed Cup competition.
The South African squad consists of Chanel Simmonds, Madrie le Roux, Katie Poluta, Minette van Vreden and Lungile Ntuli.
As per the Fed Cup rules, 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.
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.
Simmonds, South Africa’s highest ranked women’s player will spearhead the challenge.
After suffering injury early last year, Simmonds bounced back strongly towards the end of 2017 enjoying good runs in Senegal and Stellenbosch at the Digicall Futures.
Doubles specialist Le Roux, like Simmonds, is a seasoned Fed Cup campaigner. Le Roux has played 18 ties for the country since 2011 and won the African Junior doubles championships back in 2016 with fellow countrywoman, Ilze Hattingh.
Poluta of Cape Town was one of the most promising junior tennis players in the country, consistently ranked in the top five of each age group she played. Poluta took up a scholarship with the University of Texas and is presently enjoying a stellar run with the Division 1 NCAA team. Poluta will be making her Fed Cup debut.
Van Vreden, a South African masters and national champion, has dominated the junior game and like Poluta makes her Fed Cup debut.
The 17-year-old 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. 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 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 June 28-July 1 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 amongst 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.