Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Fed Cup teammates Chanel Simmonds and Sinazo Solani hit a few balls under the blazing sun in Johannesburg on Wednesday, but the heat was nothing compared to what they will face at a promotion-relegation tournament in February.

SA are ranked sixth of eight sides that will do battle at the national tennis centre in Luxembourg from February 6-9.

Coach Rene Plant‚ who oversaw their promotion into Europe/Africa Group II in 2018‚ is hoping they can stay put — the top two finishers will graduate to Group I and the bottom two will drop to Group III.

“There are a lot of good No 1 players‚ but I’m not sure of the depth at No 2,” Plant said.

Simmonds‚ with a career high singles ranking of 158‚ is the only active tour player in the SA team‚ but Plant said chemistry between her five playing options was key. “It’s about creating an atmosphere off the court that will help us on the court.”

Madrie le Roux is a former tour player while Theresa van Zyl‚ Imaan Hassim and Zani Barnard are on the collegiate circuit in the US.

Maties BA student Solani‚ raised by her domestic worker grandmother in Strand‚ heads overseas for the first time in her life as a hitting partner. “This is big for me‚” Solani said.

“As a junior I didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play individual tournaments because of lack of money. I want to play on the tour,” she said.

Simmonds pointed out it was not all glitz and glamour outside the top 100‚ moving around without her coach or significant sponsors. Travel‚ accommodation and food to get to 25 to 30 tournaments a year can cost her about R300‚000 — that’s a big chunk of change for someone whose WTA career earnings are listed at $259‚822.

Her career highlight to date was qualifying for the 2013 US Open where she faced compatriot Chani Scheepers in the first round‚ losing in three sets. But getting into the main draw was a pressure cooker experience she has not forgotten‚ facing American Taylor Townsend in the final for one spot in the American Grand Slam.

“It was like I was playing the whole of New York‚” recounted Simmonds‚ who won 6-2 2-6 7-5. She also has plenty of Fed Cup experience‚ having played more than 40 matches with 15 singles wins and eight victories in doubles. She and Le Roux have played doubles together five times‚ with three wins.

“They’re a formidable combination‚” Plant said.

There are still dreams to achieve‚ like getting to the Tokyo 2020 Games.

“To get there I must win the All Africa Games‚ and then I must be ranked in the top 300 in the world to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.”

The teams that will compete in Luxembourg are: Austria (ranked 49)‚ Israel (53)‚ Luxembourg (61)‚ Bosnia -Herzegovina (6 2) ‚ Portugal (66)‚ SA (70)‚ Tunisia (71)‚ Moldova (82).