Kenya face Burundi in Billie Jean Cup

Cynthia Cheruto

Kenya’s Cynthia Cheruto plays a forehand shot to Tunisia Ranim Rassil during their Billie Jean King Cup singles match yesterday at Nairobi Club. 

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

A potentially explosive clash between Angella Okutoyi and Sada Nahimana could be on the cards today as Kenya and Burundi compete for a place in the final of the Billie Jean King Cup Africa Group III in Nairobi.

Both Kenya (seed no.4) and Burundi (8) are tied on number of matches won after they bagged their second straight wins in Pool “B” on the clay courts of the Nairobi Club by defeating Tunisia and Mauritius, respectively yesterday. It means whoever wins between Kenya and Burundi will play in the three-team final pitting winners of pools “A”, “B” and “C”.

Coach Francis Rogoi’s Kenya came from behind to stun second seeds Tunisia 2-1 yesterday.

Cynthia Wanjala lost her singles match against Ranim Rassil 6-2, 6-4 before Okutoyi levelled the scores 1-1 after earning a hard-fought win in the second singles match by beating Chiraz Bechri 6-3, 7-6(9).

Wanjala, who was let down by service in singles, turned up strongly in doubles, partnering Okutoyi as they overpowered Bechri/Rassil 6-2, 6-3. Initially, Kenya had planned to use Okutoyi’s twin sister Roselida Asumwa and Alicia Owegi, in doubles, but after tying 1-1 in singles, Okutoyi and Wanjala, who partnered well during the last edition of Billie Jean King Cup Africa Group III when Kenya bagged bronze at the Nairobi Club, won a silver medal at the African Games in Accra, Ghana in March this year.

“It feels so good to win doubles and also the match against Tunisia, even though I had lost my singles match. I worked on my serves after the singles match and you could see I improved a lot in this department,” said Wanjala, admitting that she feels more confident partnering Okutoyi in doubles. The two were in Tunisia for three weeks of training and playing tournaments just before coming to Nairobi for the Billie Jean King Cup.

Nice and motivating

Okutoyi heaped praise on Wanjala, who cleared school at Mbagathi Road High School last year.

“Playing with Cynthia is always nice and motivating. We had a good result at the African Games. Her serves and strokes and placement of the ball helped us win doubles today,” noted Okutoyi, the 2022 Wimbledon Junior Doubles champion.

Nahimana and Okutoyi are ranked 364th and 491st in women’s pro tennis (WTA) and second and third in Africa, respectively, after Tunisian Ons Jabeur (world no.10).

Captains are expected to make their nominations early today on who will play in singles and doubles, and there is a likelihood Okutoyi and France-based Nahimana, who lived in Kenya for nine years as a child, will meet in singles.

Third tier

Okutoyi,20, and Nahimana,23, made history by winning the W25 level tournament when they partnered during the W25 Nairobi 2 at the Nairobi Club in December last year. It was the first time a Kenyan had won the W25, which is in the third tier of women’s pro tennis (ITF Women's World Tennis Tour).

The two met during the W15 Nairobi tournament in August 2019 when Okutoyi went down fighting 2-6, 6-2, 7-6.

“We hope for a good match against Burundi,” Okutoyi said yesterday.

Nahimana said: “I know Okutoyi well. She’s been really consistent with results and maturing into pro tennis. She is playing amazing tennis and I’m hoping for a good match against her.”

Kenya and Burundi thrashed Mauritius and Tunisia 3-0 and 2-1 on the first day, respectively. Burundi defeated Mauritius 3-0 on Tuesday.

In other matches held on Tuesday, June 11, South Africa and Nigeria strung their second win without dropping a match in Pool “A” and “B” after thrashing Madagascar and Ghana, respectively.

South Africa, who got relegated to Europe/Africa Group II last year, defeated Namibia 3-0 as Nigeria whipped Uganda by a similar score on the first day on Monday. Zimbabwe and Botswana are also unbeaten in pools “A” and “C”, respectively.