By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
AS they went through their final day of practice at the National Tennis Centre, members of the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association’s team for the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup said they are ready.
The team, consisting of Grand Bahamian player/ coach Simone Pratt, Sydney Clarke, Elana Mackey and Sierra Rodgers, are slated to leave town for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, today.
They will be in competition on the hard courts at the Centro Nacional de Tenis Parque del Este from July 25-30 against teams from Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, US Virgin Islands and Venezuela.
The top two teams will be promoted to the Americas Group One for 2023, but all of the other teams will remain in Group II. The Bahamas, currently ranked at number 53 in the world, finished third in Group II last year after the team of player/captain Kerrie Cartwright, Pratt, Mackey and Sierra Donaldson defeated El Salvador in the playoffs in Panama City, Panama.
After missing out on travelling with the team last year, Pratt is back for her fifth year and her first since 2018. She said she’s delighted to be named as the player/captain and she’s eager to serve with her fellow team-mates.
“I talked to Marvin Rolle and Kerrie Cartwright, and they gave me quite a few tips on what to do and what to expect, so I’m really looking forward to using those tips that they gave me,” Pratt said.
Having played on the team in the past, Pratt said she has an idea of what to do and she’s looking forward to developing a cohesive unit with the team as a whole as they represent the Bahamas.
“I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but we just have to go out there and give it our all,” she pointed out. “That’s all anyone could ask for.”
In preparation for the tie, Pratt said she’s been putting in a lot of work and is eager to go out and see how she can contribute to the team’s overall success, not just as a captain, but a player as well.
Having played on three teams in 2021, 2019 and 2017, Clarke said she’s excited over the fact that they can travel and not worry about all of the restrictions surrounding COVID-19. “I feel pretty prepared being able to play over the years and even playing with some of girls, whom I played with as juniors,” Clarke said. “So, I feel as though we have a good chance at taking the title this year.
“Once we plan and work hard, we should be fine.”
With Pratt as the most experienced player on the team, Clarke said she’s eager to learn from her and she is confident that she should do a good job in leading the team.
“I know the competition is really high. Some of the girls are in college like me and playing professionally,” Clarke stressed. “It’s great to be able to compete at a high level.”
If they can play with a lot of “guts,” the 20-year-old Clarke, who attends the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the Bahamas should be a contender.
Mackey, a 19-year-old heading into her junior year at Mars Hills University, said with the talent assembled on the team, the Bahamas has the potential to at least get into the semifinals or even reach the final.
“I think of some of the level of the other teams and what to expect,” said Mackey, who previously played on the Bahamas’ teams in 2017 and 2021. “I know what type of balls to expect and how to play in order for me to win.”
With Rodgers as the new member of the team, Mackey said she would just encourage her to “try her best and give her best effort on the team.”
And to Pratt as the first-time player/captain, she advised her to “just critique us, tell us what we’re doing right and what we can do to get better.”
Still on a high from her competitive collegiate season, Mackey said she’s been practicing a lot and she’s prepared to help the team win.
“I have a little bit of experience, so I think I should be able to play very well,” she said. “I just have to be smart and strategic and just stick to the game plan.
“If you are down, you just have to keep playing and not get mad,” she said. “Don’t worry about what the other player is doing on the other side of the court. You can only control what you know.”
As the youngest member of the team at age 16, Rodgers said she’s thrilled to be in the company of the older players.
“I think this is a real extraordinary opportunity for me. I just really want to learn and grow from this experience,” Rodgers said. “I’m among some really great tennis players, so it’s going to be a fun trip. So, I really want to learn and grow.”
Coming off an injury to her knee, Rodgers said she’s gotten through her therapy, and she is looking forward to performing just as her other teammates, whom she called amazing.
“I love Simone and Sydney and Elana. When I was younger, I really looked up to them,” Rodgers said.
“So, it’s really amazing to be with them. I worked really hard to get on the team. I felt really good. I felt all of the hard work and dedication was put into making the team.”
BLTA president Perry Newton said they are excited about this team travelling.
“It’s going to be a big competition, but the ladies are prepared, and we wish them safe travels,” he said. “I think it’s really good that they are given the opportunity to go out there and compete on the international stage again.
“We’re also really thankful that we have a sponsor like Fidelity Bank, which has come on board to support this team. I think their commitment will go a long way in helping this team to do well.”
Paige Nixon-Bartlett, the media and communications coordinator at Fidelity Bank, said as a major contributor to sports in the country, when the request was made by the BLTA to assist the team, they wholeheartedly came on board.
“I just want to tell this group of young ladies to keep their heads up, do what they are doing, stay active and we give them their full support in doing their best,” Nixon-Bartlett said.
Newton said the BLTA is particularly pleased that Rodgers will get to make her debut with a couple of veteran players, who should be able to guide her along the way.
“Simone is definitely the most seasoned player on the team, so we are happy to have her here,” Newton said. “She was supposed to travel with the team last year, but unfortunately she couldn’t participate.
“We are anxious for them, and we know that while we can’t send a contingent with them, we know that the country is praying for them, and we know that they will do very well.”