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Bhunu: Zim tennis’ next big thing

In Shona, Shamiso means surprise, thereby implying that her parents — Tennis Zimbabwe (TZ) vice-president Regis and wife Shilla — had received from the Lord a surprising gift.

Thus the baby girl became known as Valeria Shamiso Bhunu and since the age of seven, has been full of surprises for her opponents on the tennis courts raking in a number of titles.

With that crispy soft voice and sculptured looks, one can easily dismiss Bhunu as a weakling but alas, behind that “softness” and beauty lies a brute force which has seen her surprising many an opponent on the tennis courts around the world.

To date, the 16-year-old has “surprised” a number of opponents with that powerful serve that has seen her rake in a number of medals; she has lost count of how many she has won.

Last week, Bhunu sidestepped the challenge of veteran Fadzai Mawisire to add the NetOne Zimbabwe Open Tennis championship to her growing list of titles.

To fans who watched her dismiss Mawisire 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 in that pulsating final, the victory came as a surprise, but not to those in the know; it was just another day in the office for the youngster.

Tennis enthusiasts will remember that the youngster won a 14 and Under national tournament when she was just nine years of age.

Bhunu, who is ranked 315 in the International Tennis Federation rankings, also won the Super Seven 14 and Under tournament in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 2009, ITF/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.

Bhunu, a performer par excellence, 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.

Zimbabwe has had a number of shining stars in the past with players such as Mawisire and Fadzai Masiyazi who won silver at the Abuja All Africa Games.
Will Bhunu also follow the same drain as did her forbearers who fell by the wayside resulting in the country failing to find a partner for Cara Black in international competitions?

“A lot is involved in the sport and if I can be the answer to the country’s lack of talented players to compete in international competitions such as the Fed Cup, then so be it.

“At the moment I just want to enjoy the sport. It is unfortunate that women’s tennis is not that competitive locally. Women in the country reach a certain age at which they will not take the sport seriously.

“It is good that players such as Mawisire who have a lot of experience are back in the country and will add to the competition that we already have. A pity Masiyazi is not playing as well,” she said.

Bhunu, who last year moved to Growing Sport Foundation Trust in Cape Town from the ITF Centre, is still weighing up options on turning professional or going to college.

“I am currently in the final year of my studies but will decide after completion of my studies next year on whether to turn professional or not. Right now I am doing online studies with an American school. If I get a scholarship, I might go to college. This year I will participate in ITF tournaments to increase my points in order to have a better ranking,” she said.

But where does she draw her inspiration?

“I try to follow Rodger Federer. He brought a new dimension to the sport and so did the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena,” she said.

Veteran coach, Shepherd Murape, reckons that the future is bright for Bhunu if she continues working on improving her game.

“She is a very good player, but she has to realise not to rely on power only. She has to vary her shots because now she is playing people who are older than her.
“She also has to work on her backhand play as she is a bit slow in retaining a shot. It is like she is slow in deciding which shot to take. I am sure her coach Martin Dzuwa is working on that,’ said the veteran coach.

Her mother Shilla said with enough financial support, the sky is the limit for the youngster.

Such is Valeria Bhunu, whether she is another Cara Black in the offering, time — the magician — will tell.

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