EIGHT junior tennis players will this weekend leave the country for the Under-18 African Junior Championships scheduled for Potchefstroom, South Africa. The six-day event will run from February 18 to 23 with participants from across the continent taking part in the boys and girls singles and doubles competitions.
Zimbabwe were initially hoping to field 10 players with three of them entering through wildcards. However, they will now be sending eight players after Alwyn Mushonga managed to get a wildcard entry while the pair of Taremeredzwa Mariga and Luca Picci, who were also expected to get wildcards, could not be entered because they are not ranked.
Mushonga joins Ronzai Saurombe and Courtney Lock in the boys section of the competition while Valeria Bhunu, Nicole Dzenga, Thabile Tshatedi, Zahra Finnigan and Latifah Yasini will fight for the top honours in the girls category.
The players have been training with different coaches in their various bases since last month and Tennis Zimbabwe administrator, Cliff Nhokwara, said they are hoping the team will do its best in South Africa.
"Unfortunately, our players are schoolchildren and they are going to spend two weeks away with another week in Kenya so it's difficult to have them in camp, so they are going to continue working with their coaches until Saturday. They will only be with their accompanying coach, Martin Dzuwa, on Saturday and Sunday.
"The only advantage is that Martin has worked with most of these players including those that are foreign-based because when they come here, he usually works with them.
"Valeria is the top junior player in Africa and while Nicole is still young, she did well at the zonals in Namibia so we hope they will do well. Thabile, coming in the doubles, can bring in surprises.
"For the boys, Courtney has been participating in some tournaments and we hope he will do his best and reach the knockout stages. Saurombe also has the experience," said Nhokwara. Nhokwara said they would have wanted to send more players but for this tournament, players qualify according to their rankings. The only one who got a wildcard is Alwyn Mushonga, so we are having three boys and five girls. It's unfortunate that the other two players could not make it.
They are not ranked and wildcards for this tournament are for players with rankings. We could not find other players to replace them because we are given a certain age-group to work with," said Nhokwara.
The local players are likely to face some stiff competition from the Northern African countries such as Egypt and Tunisia and the hosts South Africa whose players have proved to be a force to reckon with in the Southern African region.