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#ExtraTime with SA tennis star Chanel Simmonds

In #ExtraTime, South Africa’s top-ranked female tennis player Chanel Simmonds speaks to us about life as a professional, meeting Billie Jean King and how she would like to see the sport grow on home soil.

Chanel Simmond has played in all four Grand Slam qualifying events over the years.

Twenty-seven-year-old Chanel Simmonds was born and breed in Kempton Park and took up tennis at the age of five.

Simmonds has been playing tennis professionally for more than a decade and has played in all four Grand Slam qualifying events over the years. She played in the 2013 US Open main draw, which she says is one of her most treasured memories.

“In 2013, I qualified at the US Open, I played my first main draw Grand Slam, and I actually ended up playing against the only other South African in the main draw, Chanel Scheepers. That was a cool experience. I've played in all the qualifying events of the Grand Slams. And I've made final round of Australian Open, I think once or twice in the qualifying.”

Simmonds continued down memory lane, “I've played in two All Africa Games where I have won silver medals for both. And I’ve represented South Africa in Fed Cup for the last 10 years or so. So, that's a very fun week for me, because I'm playing on a team and I'm playing for more than just myself.”

Unlike other pro-players, Simmonds does not have an agent which means she has to plan and do everything herself.

She explained how she goes about planning a season, “I sit with my coach and we look at the calendar to see what tournaments are best to play. We also have to take into consideration visas, because with the South African passport we have to get visas everywhere. That's also something to think about, because certain visas take longer. I also look at costs, I can’t fly to expensive places or if I know the hotels and food is going to be expensive, so there’s also that.”

Simmonds even joked about becoming a travel agent after she retires, as she knows exactly where to look for a good deal, “I've been doing it for so long. I know what websites to look at and what deals there are too. So, to be honest, I think I could work as a travel agent, I would get a job so quickly if I decide to go into that industry because I know all the deals and where to look.”

In terms of world rankings, Simmonds is currently 330th on the WTA Singles Rankings (as of 16 March). She says she definitely wants to play in more Grand Slams, but that all depends on improving her ranking.

“I really want to play in the Grand Slams. I played in the qualifying events and for that your ranking has to be around 200-210. So, I haven't played a GS since 2014, I think.

She continued, “I mean, it's only 100 spots in the rankings. I do feel like I'm so close, I just need two or three good results, and then I'm there and I'm able to train in the qualifiers of the Grand Slams. That’s the only goal I’ve actually been focused on over the last year or so.”

In terms of female sport stars, Simmonds says she thinks the reason women aren’t as prominent in the sports space in South Africa is because the most watched sports are male dominated.

“If you look at our top sports, it's soccer, rugby and cricket. And I think those are very male dominated sports. So, maybe that could possibly be a reason why there aren't too many female sports stars that are recognized.

Simmonds went on, “I'm trying to think now besides Caster Semenya, unless you do something really extraordinary, like on the world stage international stage, I don't think South African women get recognized as easily as opposed to some of the team events that we have.”

A sport like tennis has even more reason to go unnoticed, “Tennis is an individual sport so there’s even less reason that it would be in the papers or on the news, as opposed to a netball or hockey that I think fall just under our cricket and rugby. I think it helps if you play on a team.” says Simmonds.

Over her decade long career, Simmonds says she has met some memorable people, one of them being Billie Jean King.

“I met Billie Jean King, a few years ago, and that was actually in the US where they have an event called World TeamTennis. It's a different format, you play on a team and you only play five games.

Simmonds continued excitedly, “I happened to be on a team with the Bryan Brothers (Bob and Mike Bryan) and Billie Jean King, she was one of the organizers for this whole new event. So I would say she's probably the coolest person I've met.”

Simmonds, who is not looking at retiring anytime soon, wants to see the sport grow in South Africa and believes that it all starts at grassroots level.

“If we can start from the absolute basics and introduce tennis to younger players, all through school and then, hopefully they have the decision and that they are good enough at age 16, 17,18 to decide to go pro, then tennis will definitely develop.”

The 27 year old has been happy with what TSA has been doing so far in terms of development and exposure. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Africa, Simmonds was playing in the Ilana Kloss Tournament, one of two ITF World Tennis Tour events held in Potchefstroom in March.

“I think we are moving forward in trying to expose our players and creating more players. And I think the Federation is doing well in trying to promote tennis in general in South Africa, because, I mean, we can't build up a sport without exposing it and creating more events. So I think the Federation is doing very well in promoting the sport.”