24 April 2012
Although they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Euro/Africa Group One of the Fed Cup, South Africa’s young team provided plenty of optimism for the future of tennis in the country with a strong showing in Cairo, Egypt on the weekend.
The team, under the guidance of captain John-Laffnie de Jager, included teenagers Ilze Hattingh, Madrie le Roux, and Lynn Kiro. Ranked 24th in the world in doubles, Natalie Grandin, at the age of 31, gave the line-up some experience.
To put matters into perspective, in the week preceding the Fed Cup playoffs, Hattingh, aged 15, had captured the under-16 African Junior title in Cairo. Just one month ago, she met Le Roux in the under-18 final of the African Junior Tennis Championships in Potchefstroom.
Yet, despite their youth, the team performed admirably and scored some convincing victories on their way to the final playoff tie against Turkey, which they lost to suffer their first defeat in four ties at the playoffs.
“I am extremely proud of my girls,” De Jager said in a statement afterwards.
“They came into the tournament unseeded, then won three ties on the trot without losing a rubber and in the final playoff tie fell to a powerful Turkey side.
“This week was excellent experience for the new caps,” he added, “and Natalie [Grandin] was an incredible leader from the front. Natalie, without doubt, needs to be credited for her on-going commitment to tennis in South Africa. She plays with heart and is so proudly South African.”
The South African team opened its challenge in Pool a with a 3-0 win over Denmark , which captain De Jager termed a “dream start”.
Playing on clay, Hattingh shocked Danish number one Mai Grage 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-0. Grandin then ensured victory with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 win over Karen Barbat. She later teamed up with Le Roux to defeat Grage and Cecilie Melsted 7-5, 6-3 in the doubles.
The victory took South Africa’s Fed Cup record against Denmark to four wins and one loss.
After the win over Denmark, South African faced more Scandinavian opposition when they took on Finland in their second outing. Once again, De Jager’s charges triumphed 3-0.
In an even more emphatic performance than in their opener, Hattingh thumped Johanna Hyoty 6-2, 6-1 and Grandin beat Piia Soumalainen 6-4, 6-3 to secure victory before the doubles match. This time around Le Roux, celebrating her 17th birthday, teamed up with Kiro to crush Hyoty and Ella Leivo 6-0, 6-1.
In their final tie in Pool A, South Africa took on Montenegro.
South Africa didn’t drop a single set as they once again claimed a 3-0 victory. Hattingh saw off Vladica Babic 6-2, 6-4, Grandin was a 6-4, 7-5 winner over Dank Kovinic, and Le Roux and Kiro whipped Milica Sljukic and Babic 6-1, 6-1 in the doubles.
Bridge too far
That set up a clash with Turkey, the winners of Pool B, for a place in the Euro-Africa Group One in 2013. It proved to be a bridge too far as the Turks claimed both singles matches to ensure victory.
Hattingh fell 6-4, 6-2 to Pemra Ozgen and Grandin went down in three sets to Cagla Buyulkakcay: 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
For a very young, unseeded team, South Africa had performed way above expectations, leaving the future of women’s tennis in the country looking very bright.
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