Team Zimbabwe’s Tennis Fortunes Improve in Nairobi

As Team Zimbabwe progressed to a second consecutive tennis tournament in Nairobi this week, Rufaro Chirewa continues to outshine her three Zimbabwean male teammates on the clay courts. Entering the Nairobi International Junior Championships IV,a Grade 5 competition, the four student team of Munesu Chatikobo, Dennis Moses, Andile Sibanda and Chirewa, made relatively better progress than in last week’s more competitive Grade 4 ITF East African Championship.

Chirewa is proving herself a tactical doubles player, pairing with Poland’s Karolina Silwanowicz in this competition. Silwanowicz,with an ITF ranking of #419, is the top ranked girl in the tournament. The pair enjoyed an easy 6-2, 6-2 win on Tuesday over Angel MacLeod of Nigeria and Lungile Ntuli of South Africa. Today they enjoyed another relatively easy 6-2, 6-3 quarter final victory over partners Oumaima Aziz of Morocco and Snehal Mane of India.

Today’s quarter final win was that much sweeter for Chirewa as she lost earlier in the day in straight 4-6, 3-6 sets to Mane, and was knocked out of the singles competition. Standing at 5 feet 4 inches, Chirewa’s height is a deciding factor in her relative strength as a doubles rather than singles player. The pair are favored to beat Diae El Jardi of Morocco and Sada Nahimana of Burundi Thursday in their semi-final match at 1pm Zimbabwe time. Last week Chirewa and partner Mbaya of Kenya won the East African ITF Junior Championship trophy. She aspires make it double gold, and watch her ITF ranking soar.

In addition to gaining valuable clay court tournament experience, Team Zimbabwe’s boys also made some progress in the early rounds this week before exiting the Grade 5 tournament today. In singles main draw competition, Dennis Moses advanced to the second round after beating Cyrille Lago of Ivory Coast in a three set 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-2 tight match. Today, however, Moses was defeated by Lithuania’s Paulius Matulevicius 3-6, 6(5)-7.

Hellenic Academy’s Munesu Chatikobo and Andile Sibanda both succumbed to their first round Dutch and Belgium opponents in straight sets in the main draw. Chatikobo, however, was fortunate to be handed a bye in the Qualifying Draw first round and in second round play beat Great Britain’s Bradley Stoneham 6-3, 6-2 to quality. The win will possibly enable Chatikobo to gain the points needed to be granted an ITF ranking for the first time.

The boys also performed better in the doubles competition. Paired with Burundi’s Saidi Nkurunziza, Chatikobo beat fellow Zimbabwean teammate Sibanda and partner Belgian Kobe Vandelanotte 6-4, 6-1 yesterday to advance to round two. Second round afternoon play, however,handed Chatikobo a particularly bitter defeat, as he again lost to Lithuanian Matulevicius, who earlier in the morning had defeated him in the singles. In a tense, drawn out three set match Chatikobo and Nkurunziza finally gave in (5)-6, 5-7 [8-10] to their opponents.

With no play left for the boys, tomorrow Team Zimbabwe will cheer on Chirewa in her quest for a second gold.