By Jeremiah Yolkut, special to USTA.com
The 2011 World Team Cup got off to a smashing start as Wheelchair Tennis South Africa put on a grand show at the University of Pretoria in Tshwane, South Africa. It was a night filled with dancers, drummers and musical entertainment that wowed the over 300 participants of World Team Cup and gave a real flavor of this African nation.
The evening began with the traditional team processional into the Rembrandt Hall (Stadium) of the University of Pretoria. Each team was introduced with a brief history about their country and its role and accolades in wheelchair tennis. The United States was one of the oldest and largest delegations at this year’s event, followed by Team Zimbabwe, first time World Team Cup participant.
Team Zimbabwe is one of the smallest delegations, represented by only 3 junior players and a coach. The team was only entered into the event this past Thursday after Team Iraq dropped out due to Visa challenges. It was a pretty special moment to see the US share the spotlight with an emerging wheelchair tennis nation in Zimbabwe.
Once all teams were in place Team South Africa was presented to the hall and received a nice ovation as the host country. One of their top women’s players serenaded the audience with the national anthem as the crowd listened to the unfamiliar, but powerful words. After several sponsors and public officials shared words of support for the event, the players enjoyed the African dance and drum performance from their tables. The booming sounds of the drums echoing through the stadium was powerful and provided a true taste of what the country is all about, unity and harmony among everyone.
After a lovely dinner of traditional South African fare, the teams listened intently as the draws were announced.
The men’s team was first up to hear their draw, as the veteran laden team looked forward to seeing their possible path to promotion from World Group 2 back into World Group 1. The team received a favorable draw and will begin their quest with an early match against Morocco in the first round of the competition. The men are seeded No. 2 in World Group 2 with Japan taking the top spot. Their first round tie will take place on Tuesday.
The rookie-dominated juniors were the next US team to hear their pathway to growth. The juniors did not fare as well with their draw, landing in the same pool as the Dutch juniors who always bring an "A" game to the World Team Cup. The juniors will look to start their WTC experience on Monday against the host country, South Africa.
The No. 1 quad team was up next, hoping to start their round robin competition with the preferred Israelis early, rather than during the pool cross-over at the end of the event. Much to the teams delight Israel landed in their pool and will be their first tie of the 2011 campaign on Monday. The quad team is looking to repeat as WTC Champions after a successful 2010.
The women’s team capped off the evening ceremony with a favorable draw, avoiding the heavily favored Netherlands women and landing in the bottom half of the draw. The young and mighty women of Team USA will look to start their drive to World Team Cup success as they take on the women of Chile on Monday.
Overall, the US team walked away from the draw ceremony with a positive outlook for this year’s World Team Cup. All signs are pointing in the right direction, as Team USA looks to add to the rich history of American wheelchair tennis at this world-class event.
As junior team member Ryan Nelson said on the bus ride home from opening ceremonies: "Now, it is time to play some tennis."
Monday’s World Team Cup Schedule - Team USA
Men - Off
Women - USA vs. Chile
Quad - USA vs. Israel
Juniors - USA vs. South Africa