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First-time team relishing the experience of Nationals

October 15, 2016 02:19 PM

By Steve Pratt, Special to USTA.com

CAYCE, S.C. – You won’t catch the coach of the 14U Intermediate team from Spring Branch, Texas, checking the scoreboard and adding up games during this weekend’s USTA Junior Team Tennis National Championships. 

While there are some teams that have their sights on winning a national title, Zimbabwe native Kudakwashe Sengai, who goes by Kuda, said his team is just happy to be at the event taking place at the Cayce Tennis Center and the Lexington County Tennis Complex outside Columbia. 

“It’s been amazing, really,” Sengai (pictured above with his 14U squad) said. “The kids have really enjoyed it, and it’s all about the experience. We have a really young team and they’re doing well. We’ve won some matches and lost some, but they’re playing against some of the best kids in the States.

“Some of my players were pretty nervous. Some of them have only been playing for six or seven months. Nerves will come up, but they’re doing good overall.”

Sengai, 27, is the director of tennis at a growing nonprofit tennis association about 30 miles north of San Antonio. The Spring Branch Tennis Association has four courts and is building two more with the hopes of eventually becoming a 10-court facility. 

Sengai grew up leaning the game at a tennis academy in Mutare, Zimbabwe, which has had some well-known coaches in Africa teach there, including former WTA player Cara Black. Other top players from Zimbabwe who had success on the ATP World Tour include the Black brothers, Wayne and Byron, and Kevin Ullyett from the town of Harare, some 200 miles from where Sengai grew up. 

Sengai played some professional ITF Futures and Challengers after his junior career and ended up at John Newcombe’s Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas. He met the Our Lady of the Lake University tennis coach while there, and shortly after he was admitted to school and anxious to play for on the men’s tennis team. He played No. 1 singles and doubles for the NAIA school based in San Antonio, and the team reached a high of No. 21 in the national rankings.

Sengai, who earned his psychology undergraduate degree in 2013, was reunited with his parents Ana and Edward at graduation following six years apart. He is currently finishing up his master’s degree in nonprofit marketing. 

Sengai said money kept him from spending more time traveling the world and playing on tour. “The problem is the funding is just not there after the juniors for guys to go out on tour,” said Sengai, who was aided by a local sponsor named Ann Martin during his short professional career. 

For now, however, Sengai is focused on this weekend in Cayce and the experience it offers for both him and his team.

“I just told the kids to go out and have fun,” Sengai said. “It’s just a great opportunity to get a chance to be here. At least just making it here and winning our region of San Antonio and then the Section is really good. We hope to come back again next year.”