18 March 2014
Earl Grainger, South Africa’s newly appointed Fed Cup captain, is on a mission to improve women’s tennis in the country. On Monday, Grainger, together with Tennis South Africa, announced a complete overhaul of the Fed Cup system in the country.
A Fed Cup squad comprising of 15 of the country’s top senior and junior players has been confirmed for 2014, and for the first time in years it includes South Africa’s highest ranked women’s singles player, Chani Scheepers, who last made herself available for Fed Cup duty in 2005.
Grainger said that he had held long discussions with Scheepers, who was very excited by the new plans.
“Chani assured me that she is totally committed to South African tennis,” Grainger said in a statement.
“We spoke about her not being available for Fed Cup in the past and we discussed the future. Chani wants to help us in every possible way and I was delighted that she agreed to be part of the Fed Cup squad.”
Twelve of the 15 squad members were announced on Monday. They are: Chani Scheepers; Chanel Simmonds; Natasha Fourouclas; Madrie Le Roux; Natalie Grandin; Ilze Hattingh; Michelle Sammons; Lynn Kiro; Zani Barnard; Lee Barnard; Theresa Van Zyl; and Janet Koch. Three more players will be added to the squad shortly.
The players in the squad were selected according to their world rankings and participation on the WTA Tour. Juniors with potential were also considered and players that supported the TSA tournament programme were given added consideration.
Euro Africa Group 2 tournament
Grainger said that he would announce his Fed Cup team on Friday to play in the Euro Africa Group 2 tournament in Lithuania from 16 to 19 April.
“I will be monitoring the players, their progress and their schedules at all times,” Grainger explained. “I will also be at all major local and international tournaments to watch the players compete and be on hand at these events to offer them advice.”
Tennis South Africa also confirmed that two consultants – seasoned doubles specialist Natalie Grandin of Durban and leading coach Allan Karam of Pretoria – would work with Grainger on the Fed Cup project. Grandin and Karam would be on hand not only to advise Grainger but also to work with the players in the squad.
Karam said that the aim was to build for the future. “Let’s not be fooled, there is plenty of talent in our country. All we need to do is identify players, nurture and develop their skills, and look at long term success for our country.
“I am optimistic about this new look Fed Cup project. As long as we give the girls every opportunity available to enable them to progress and develop, this added support will for sure assist them in becoming successful professional players, which will in turn be good for our Fed Cup hopes,” Karam added.
He warned, however, that the road ahead would be a big challenge. “It’s not going to be easy, but Earl has some really great and positive vision, and Natalie and I look forward to the challenge.”
‘This is a great idea’
Grandin shared a similar view to Karam, and was feeling positive about her involvement with the project. “I am and have always been happy to help Tennis South Africa,” she said. “I think this is a great idea and I am sure that with all my years of experience playing in the Fed Cup team, and on the pro tour, I will be able to help South Africa move up to Group 1. The team definitely has enough talent to move up and be a strong contender in years to come.”
Free of charge training squads for the players are planned to be held at least four times a year, with the players in the squad being given top class technical, physical and mental training to prepare them for the professional tour.
‘Hard, dedicated work’
“Hard, dedicated work will enable the girls to earn a place in the squad. My plan is to give the girls something that they have never experienced before and after each squad session I really want the girls to have gained enormously from the technical, physical and mental sessions we will offer them,” Grainger said.
He warned, though, that the players would have to work hard and win matches to keep their spots in the squad. “I need a hard working bunch of players that are totally committed to their game, to Tennis South Africa and the country as a whole. If they are not committed and show signs of poor performance they will stand a chance of losing their spot in the squad,” he said.
The first squad session will be held at Johannesburg’s Bedfordview Tennis Club from 9 to 12 April.