ZIMBABWE’S top-ranked female tennis player Valeria Bhunu may still be in the early stages of her career but she already has her eyes on taking on the best in the game after a solid season on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Pro Circuit this year. BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The 21-year-old rising tennis ace, who trains at the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy in Cape Town, South Africa, ended 2015 ranked 1 007 but impressive showings on the ITF circuit this year have seen her move to position 551, making her the highest ranked black African female player on the world rankings.
In an interview with Standardsport, Bhunu said she had been encouraged by her recent results on the professional circuit and had now set her sights on obtaining a Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranking and then playing on the circuit itself.
“It’s been a good year for me so far and I feel I have learned a lot from playing regularly on the circuit and my game has definitely improved. Getting close to winning tournaments has really had a positive influence on my confidence and shows the progress I have been making since.
“My long-term goal is to be in the 100 in the world, which would make me eligible to play top WTA events and Grand Slams but at the moment my immediate goal is to finish this year in the top 350,” said Bhunu, who is now preparing for tournaments in Nigeria and South Africa next month.
Zimbabwe has not had a top female tennis player on the WTA circuit since the retirement of local tennis legend Cara Black, who won 60 WTA and 11 ITF titles before rising to world number one on the doubles rankings during her career spanning almost two decades.
Although she is still a long way from emulating Black’s achievements, Bhunu — who won the Zimbabwe Open title in 2010 when she was aged only 15 — has shown that she has the potential to put Zimbabwe tennis on the world map if she is given the necessary support.
Last week she was in brilliant form as she reached the final of the $10 000 Soho Square Women’s Futures Tournament in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt before losing 3-6, 6-7 (3) to Slovakia’s Tereza Mihalikova in a decider which could have gone either way.
She also reached the final of the Mary Pierce Indian Ocean Series in June, in addition to three other semifinal appearances on the circuit since the start of the year.
And although Bhunu has not been able to add to the maiden ITF Pro Circuit title she won in Stellenbosch, South Africa last year, her consistent performances have seen her quietly moving an impressive 456 places up the ITF world rankings since the start of the year.
She attributed her recent good form to good preparations and the support she has been receiving from her family. Bhunu’s father Regis is the current Tennis Zimbabwe president.
“It’s definitely from good preparations. my coach has been working very hard with us well before we go to the tournaments so we are at our peak when playing the matches and think it has brought the best from me. The most important thing in my tennis has also been my support system which includes my parents, family, coaches and all the people I train with. In sport support is a very big factor and I am very grateful for all the support I have,” she said.