du Preez back on world stage
The Western Cape teenager pictured on the way to her first national senior title
Cornelia du Preez (18), South Africa's #1 tennis player, is back on the FWTT tour for a second year - and aims to establish herself as a serious contender. The disappointing start to the Hopman Cup is quickly forgotten, as the youngster is going east for ranking points - she travelled east to Sydney on Thursday in an attempt to acclimatise further.
Du Preez spent Christmas at home with her family, taking a well-earned break after a long seven months on the road, but doesn't think she has made a poor choice by becoming professional so early. "I had so much fun with the girls on tour last year," she exclaims, seemingly buoyant about her own life; a bit peculiar, perhaps, for a girl who has lost roughly half of her matches so far, but she is optimistic both about her tennis and her life.
"I got a little too concerned about my game last year, and forgot how lucky I really am - I get to see a lot of the world and travel with these remarkable people, it's great fun and I really hope I can stay free of injuries and constantly improve."
In perhaps the world's most closely fought professional game, many argue that the FWTT lacks a big star to market - there were three World #1s in last year alone, and none of them won any of the Grand Slams. Unsurprisingly, du Preez disagrees.
"I think we have a great tour, and I think that is reflected in the number of new players that we were able to recruit before the season started. Lots of girls are taking up tennis all over the world because they see Taliamanosoko, Wong, Ziyi, Bailly, Kane, Mbangu, Starr, Bartoli on their screens. And even though there are no clear stand-outs, there are still some players who are better than others; there are no easy matches, but conversely, if you start to watch a FWTT match you will probably change your opinion of who's going to win about ten times. And to my mind, that's pretty fun." She did, however, decline to comment on the financial issues which wrecked many exhibitions in the off-season.
Du Preez played some competitive matches in the off-season; she was in Lilongwe for a continental tournament, where she played no real part, but won a South African national title almost without serious competition - in the final, Nosiviwe Mqhayi was sent packing with a 6/3 6/2 scoreline. "Unfortunately there are no other South Africans ready to take the step up yet; I'm hoping to represent a team in the Fed Cup, but I guess that will be confirmed later."
Du Preez is in the top half of the draw at the Sydney Premier tournament, where the top nine players of the world have all entered; she will face #4 Giuseppina Benedetti in the first round, with US Open champion Saba Abid, doubles champion Martine Kartincova, returning multi-titlist Regla Torres and the hugely talented Vietnamese Hillary Nguyen all gathered in her quarter.