Valeria Bhunu was like any other nine year old – glued to the TV whenever possible. But it was the 2002 Wimbledon Women’s Tennis Finals that captivated her. Especially the battle of Williams sisters Serena and Venus. Serena went on to win that encounter.
Valeria and her sisters were, until then, golf fans but she soon became a keen follower of the Williams sisters and at the tender age of seven she started tennis. “It was automatic,” said Valeria. “I fell in love with the ‘girl force’ the Williams sisters exhibited,” says the shy Zimbabwe women’s’ number one. Born and raised in Harare she honed her skills on the tennis courts with her coach the late Claudio Murape.
Her coach, Miracle Matanga, believes she is going to be a top world contender if more local tournaments, International Tennis Federation (ITF) Pro-circuit tournaments, and sponsorship are forthcoming. Currently, Bhunu has made it into the tennis Women’s Circuit that offers a series of professional tournaments for female players, and serves as the development circuit for the Women’s Tennis Association Tour.
Bhunu, who won the Zimbabwe Open title in 2010 aged only 15, is one of the country’s brightest prospects in women’s tennis together with fellow South Africa-based player Nicole Dzenga. Aged 20, she has beaten a number of opponents with her powerful serve, to rake in several medals. She was on the podium in December at the African Youth Championships where she sidestepped the challenge of her top Southern African counterpart to add to her growing list of titles.
Tennis enthusiasts will remember that the youngster won the Under 14 National Tournament when she was just nine years of age. She won the Super Seven 14 and Under tournament in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 2009, ITF/Confederation of African Tennis (CAT) Southern Africa 14 and Under in Cape Town, Botswana’s ITF/CAT Southern Africa 14 and Under, ITF/CAT Southern Africa 14 and Under (Botswana) as well as the Africa Junior Zonal Championships in Harare. She is currently ranked 315 in the International Tennis Federation rankings.
Valeria, who professes respect for fellow Zimbabwe tennis idol Cara Black, got a scholarship to study at the ITF Training Centre in Pretoria South Africa when she was 11, two years younger than the minimum entry age limit at the centre.
Richmore Murape, a tennis coach and the brother of her late coach Claudio Murape says, “I reckon that the future is bright for Bhunu if she continues working on improving her game. She is a committed player of immense potential, but she has to not rely on power only. She varies her shots which is a good thing. Overall she is disciplined both on the court and off.” Overseas tournaments will be an important factor if Valeria wants to achieve rapid development in her game. As Murape observes, there are more opportunities and better training overseas than in any country in Africa.
“At the moment I just want to enjoy the sport. It is unfortunate that women’s tennis is not that competitive locally. Women in this country reach a certain age at which they no longer take the sport seriously,” says Valeria.