Simmonds to go it alone at Oz Open

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iol sport pic jan8 Chanel Simmonds ETIENNE ROTHBART Top South African prospect Chanel Simmonds has defied the odds to reach the final qualifying round of the Australian Open. Picture: Etienne Rothbart.

South Africans Chanel Simmonds, Rik De Voest and Izak van der Merwe begin the gruelling bid into the Australian Open main draw when the qualifiers get underway in Melbourne on Wednesday.

And for 20 year-old Simmonds, South Africa's number two women's player, it is a particularly daunting task without a coach to guide her through the preliminary stages of the lucrative grand slam event.

Earl Grainger, who coaches Simmonds locally, said Simmonds is a better and more mature player than when she took part in the Australian Open last year.

Grainger who has been mainly responsible in shaping and nurturing her talent, lamented on Tuesday that despite concerted efforts in tennis circles and the business sector, he had been unable to secure sponsorship that would have enabled him to accompany South Africa's most promising young tennis player.

“I've been on the ATP international tennis circuit myself,” added Grainger, “and I know what it's like to be lonely and on your own in such a difficult and challenging environemnt - particularly when you are only 20 years old like Chanel and being confronted by the world's best women players,” said Grainger

He added that the South African Tennis Association had helped Simmonds in the past, but were not assisting her at the moment.

“If a similar situation existed in Australia, the United States, China, Timbuktoo or anywhere else, they would be falling over themselves to aid and encourage the country's top prospect,” said Grainger.

South African Tennis Association CEO Ian Smith was not available to comment on Tuesday.

Simmonds, South Africa's number two women's player behind Chani Scheepers, dominated the Futures tournaments in Potchefstroom recently before undertaking her Australian venture - winning one of the women's singles without dropping a set despite internationa opposition.

The points secured in Potchefstroom, however, have not elevated Simmonds' current 180th world ranking sufficiently to avoid going into the Australian Open qualifiers.

De Voest, returning to major tournaments after injury had sidelined him for two months last year, faces the prospect of meeting former South African seeded Wayne Odesnik in the second qualifying round.

And the incentive for him and Van der Merwe to reach the main draw is a substantial amount of R70 000 for the players who lose in the first round. - Sapa

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