Kenya: Tough Test Awaits Kenya in Euro-Africa Campaign

2 January 2019

Kenya may have returned to Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group Two Championship after a breathtaking performance in Africa Group Three championship that highlighted 2018 tennis season, but the team must prepare adequately and early enough for Euro/Africa tournament in April.

The Euro/Africa Group Two tournament that starts in April on home-and-away basis, will be a tough test for Tennis Kenya, which has already presented a budget of Sh8.7 million to the Sports ministry.

Tennis Kenya President James Kenani anticipates that the Davis Cup team players will feature in a series of tournaments in South Africa, Egypt and Botswana ahead of the championship.

Kenya will be battling to either stay in the group or earn promotion to Group One next year.

Kenya also hopes to perform well at the eight-day Africa Zone Five Championships for players aged 16 and under, and 14 and under in Tanzania starting this weekend.

That will be followed by ITF Wheelchair Futures tournament, and later Wheelchair World Cup Africa qualifiers in February in Nairobi.

Kenya was promoted to Davis Cup Group Two, but Tennis Kenya will also look back at the 2018 season with pride for successfully hosting International Tennis Federation (ITF) President David Haggerty in April.

It was the first time an ITF president visited Kenya since the game was launched locally in 1922. And Haggerty presided over the ground-breaking of Tennis Kenya Centre at Kasarani, then paid a courtesy call on President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi.

During the visit, the government promised to support the construction of Tennis Kenya Centre.

Tennis Kenya also won the top award in the Confederation of Africa Tennis for the Most Outstanding Federation in Development Programme in Africa during the Convention in Rwanda.

The 2018 season saw the rebirth of junior tennis prodigy Angela Okutoyi, who made history by becoming the second youngest player to win the Kenya Open after the 14-year-old Wanjiku Ngaruiya in 2004.

She also became the first Kenyan to reach the Africa Cup of Nations final in November in Botswana. Kenya hosted nine other countries for the Davis Cup Africa Group Three Championship from June 16-23 at Nairobi Club.

Kenya, led by non-playing captain Rosemary Owino, won Group Three Championship to be promoted back to Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group Two championship after 13 years in the cold.

Kenya's Ismael Changawa and Ibrahim Kibet stunned top-seeded Benin pair of Alexis Klegou and Felix Hounkpevi in split sets of 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the deciding match of the Africa Group Three Championship to gain promotion.

It was a thriller as Changawa redeemed himself after he had lost to top-ranked Klegou in closely-contested singles match 7-6 (5), 6-4. That was moments after Sheil Kotecha had stopped Delmas N'Tcha, also of Benin, 6-4, 6-4.

Top-ranked Benin and second-seeded Kenya drew 1-1 after the singles matches, leaving the doubles rubber to settle the scores. Changawa and Kibet silenced Benin opponents.

Namibia beat Nigeria 2-1 in the other semi-final match to qualify alongside Kenya to Euro/Africa Group Two.

Kenya narrowly missed promotion to Euro/Africa Davis Cup Group II after falling to Zimbabwe 2-0 in Africa Zone Group III play-offs in 2017.

This was the first time Kenya was hosting the Davis Cup since 2002 in Mombasa where Kenya featured in Group Two. Kenya would then drop to Group III after the country withdrew from both Fed Cup and Davis Cup in 2006.

Last year, president Uhuru Kenyatta said that the Tennis Kenya Training Centre to be constructed at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani would be complete in two years instead of five.

Mr Kenyatta said the government had allocated Sh30 million for the first phase that will cost Sh1 billion bust said the funding would be reviewed the following financial year, with more funds being allocated.

Kenani said that the first phase will consist of an administration block and six tennis courts while the whole venture will have 24 courts and hostels too.

During his visit, Haggerty also officially opened the ITF East Africa High Performance Centre at Upper Hill, Nairobi. The Centre was allocated US$ 210,000 (Sh21.4 million) after it that was moved from Burundi two years ago.

Olympic Solidarity has also supported the centre with US$ 20,000 (Sh2 million) while Tennis Kenya gave Sh700,000. The centre has 12 players drawn from Kenya, Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon and Madagascar.

Okutoyi, 14, dominated in 2018, winning ITF Under-18 tournament in Burundi in June to join the ITF World Tour team that enabled her tour France, Germany, Belgium and Czech Republic for five weeks between July and August.

Straight from the tour, Okutoyi went on to win the ITF/CAT Africa Under-14 Championships title in Algiers in August. Okutoyi beat home favourite, Algerian Bouchra Mebarki 4-6 6-0 6-1 to clinch the title.

Okutoyi would stun top seeded Shufaa Changawa, the 2011, 2014 and 2016 champion, to win this year's Britam Kenya Open Tennis championship on September 22 at the Nairobi Club.

Ibrahim Kibet's four years of hard work and patience finally paid dividends when he beat Ismael Changawa 7-5, 6-4, for his maiden major victory.

Okutoyi would make history as the first Kenyan to reach the final of the Africa Cup of Nations but lost in straight sets to top-seeded Bechri Chiraz from Tunisia 6-1, 6-3 to settle for silver.

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