23 Sep 2017

Junior Fed Cup the latest highlight for Nahimana

News Article

By  Tom Moran

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: “We thought we would not win any matches,” Sada Nahimana laughed, just a couple of hours after securing Burundi’s first ever victory at the Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals on Friday.

“We are happy, we are proud,” she continued, “and at least we are not the last team in our group!”

As their performances against Chinese Taipei showed, Burundi’s team – which qualified for the Finals of the 16-and-under junior team competition for the first time this year after winning the African qualifying event – more than merit their place among the world’s elite juniors.

Theirs is quite a story. “We only have one club and there are so many people practicing over there,” Nahimana’s teammate Hoziane Kitambala explained earlier in the week. “We only have that one club in Burundi.”

As a result, all three members of this Burundi team train elsewhere. Nahimana is based at the ITF Training Centre in Casablanca, while Kitambala and Aisha Niyonkuru train at the ITF Training Centre in Nairobi.

“I train in Morocco, I only go to Burundi for holidays, to see my parents and maybe play for two weeks with my friends, have fun,” Nahimana said.

The training centres are intended to aid young players whose federations may not be able to support them to realise their full potential. And for Nahimana, whose year now includes making the Top 100 of the ITF Junior rankings and playing in the girls’ singles at the US Open, the benefits of her time in Morocco are evident for all to see.

“I’m thankful to be there,” she said of the Casablanca training centre. “It’s helped me, I’ve improved a lot. It’s nice because I practice with the best players in Africa. And what helped me is that we are so many kids, there are so many people to practice with, so many different players. And the atmosphere is very nice in Morocco.”

As well as opportunities for training, Nahimana’s hard work and dedication to the sport saw her rewarded with membership of two ITF 18-and-under touring teams this summer, funded by the Grand Slam Development Fund, playing tournaments in Europe from May to July and in North America in August and September.

“This summer was very good. I went to Italy and played very good, played my best tennis there,” she explained. She also made the quarterfinals of the Grade 1 Belgian International Junior Championships, defeating Top 10 player Carson Branstine before falling to fellow touring team member, Naho Sato.

The highlight of her year, however, was qualifying at the US Open in New York.

“At US Open, I believe I really fought, I qualified and I played Grand Slam main draw, I was really happy,” she continued. “I didn’t get a good draw, but I was happy to play against an Australian Open champion [Marta Kostyuk]. I was really happy. I played three sets with her. So I’m really positive about that – hopefully next year I can do better.”

Nahimana played Kostyuk again in the first round of group stage matches this week, falling 62 62 to the world No. 3. She also lost in straight sets to Colombia’s Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, ranked No. 16, but defeated Joanna Garland 64 61 on Friday to seal a memorable first victory for her nation.

And despite the losses, Nahimana explained that, weather aside, she would take only positive memories away from her week in the Hungarian capital.

“I’m happy to be here because it’s a very tough tournament, all the best players in the world,” she said. “I played against the No. 3 in the ITF [junior rankings], it’s my second time playing against her and it’s good, we’re happy our team qualified. Budapest is very nice. It’s beautiful – apart from the rain!”

All the teams here play with the additional pride of representing their countries. But for a nation with no tennis heritage, and whose players must work so hard to compete with countries with all the top-class facilities and places to train one could wish for, that feeling must be particularly special.

“It’s a really good feeling, first of all to represent my country in the [Junior] Fed Cup Finals. We are really proud,” Nahimana said. “Our Federation is happy for us, our country is happy for us, so yes, very proud. We didn’t expect to be here.”

Ever humble, the Burundians maybe should begin to expect more – because the quality of their tennis this week in Budapest proves that they belong among the world’s best.