LAST week Zimbabwean tennis star Takanyi Garanganga soared 35 places on the world rankings to 416th after reaching the main draw at the 2018 Los Cabos Open in Mexico as he continues navigate his way to the top level of the professional ranks, the ATP World Tour.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Garanganga enjoyed a commendable run in the ATP World Tour 250 Series tournament, winning three matches in qualifying against players ranked inside the top 200 on his way to the main draw.
Although the 27-year-old Zimbabwe Davis Cup player lost 7-5, 2-6, 5-7 to Thomas Fabbiano from Italy in the first round, he can reflect on a successful outing after reaching only his ninth main draw match on the ATP World Tour since turning professional in 2009.
Like most upcoming tennis professional players, Garanganga’s career has been limited to the ITF Futures and ATP Challengers tours with the goal of earning enough ranking points to qualifying regularly for ATP Tour tournaments.
“Yes, it was a good feeling. I felt some tension relieved a little bit,” Garanganga told The Sports Hub from his base in the US last week.
A week earlier, Garanganga had battled from the qualifying stages to reach the main draw of the Granby Challenger in Canada.
“I had close matches to qualify and the journey from Montreal to Cabo, Mexico, was also long and tiring. So I felt good after qualifying. After qualifying, the experience was the same as in playing any match, you still prepare, warm up, look at your tactics and try and execute, so I just treated it the same.”
Garanganga says although he has encountered many challenges throughout his career from injuries to lack of sponsorship, he remains motivated by the desire to be ranked inside the top 50 in the world, which would make him eligible to compete in Grand Slam tournaments.
“Every season I want to be fine-tuning my game style to make it tough for opponents to beat me. Every season I want to be in the top 50 in the world so I just work on those things,” he said.
Garanganga, who in 2014 reached a career-high world ranking of 288, has so far won eight ITF Futures singles titles, one of them coming on home soil in June when he won the third leg of the Old Mutual Futures Series.
His most notable tournament success was winning the gold medal in the men’s singles at the 2011 All Africa Games (now African Games) in Maputo, Mozambique.
Takanyi says it had always been his dream to become a tennis pro since learning the sport from his father Bradwell.
“My father used to play socially with my older brother too (he is 10 years elder than me). So naturally I would be interested to play and would go along with them when they went to play socially at different clubs like Old Mutual, but the majority of the time was Sundays at the University of Zimbabwe. So you could say my introduction to the sport was from my father — the first three years.”
He added: “By the time I was 10 years old I spent more time training with Tawanda Mashonga, who was one of the junior national coaches of Tennis Zimbabwe at the time. He spent a lot of time with me actually developing my game, but he moved to the United Kingdom when I was 13 years old.”
Spurred on by the desire to succeed, Garanganga won high-profile tournaments such as the African Junior Championship and the Under-14 Circuit from the age of 14.
The feats saw him moving to the United States after catching the eye of former Zimbabwe tennis player Brian de Villiers, who coached him until the age of 18.
Takanyi’s move to the US coincided with his best run of success as a junior, reaching a career-high ranking of number 16 in the world in 2008 and competing at the US Open Junior Tennis Championships, Junior Wimbledon Championships, the Roland Garros Junior Championships and constantly participating on the ITF Junior World Tour.
Due to his early success, Garanganga decided to turn professional at the age of 18 instead of going to college, turning down offers from the University of Georgia and University of Illinois in order to pursue his dream.
He, however, acknowledges that the transition from junior tennis to the pro ranks was not as smooth as he had to deal with managing a lot of high expectations early on until his own realisation that it was possible to reach the top 10 in the world when he turned 23.
“Professional level was a challenge because people believed I could do it, but it was coming from outside me. They used to say this when I was a teenager. But [for] me seeing that it is possible to be playing at the professional stage, I mean being top 10 ATP in the world came at the age of 23 years old.”
Garanganga, who has had to rely on his family for support through his career, with his father, Brad, playing a pivotal role in funding his game, finally got some recognition in June when he received $5 000 from Seed Co to assist in cushioning the costs of his travels to international tournaments.
It was the first sponsorship of any kind that Garanganga has received from a local corporate towards his career and he hopes it’s the beginning of a mutually beneficial partnership.
“It wasn’t really the recognition I wanted because the country already did talk about me and the tennis career since I was a teenager. But without question, I thank Seed Co for their donation to my programme and I would still want to partner with them for bigger projects that would help us both.”
Garanganga is the ambassador for Serve 4 Africa, a non-profit organisation that promotes social development in previously disadvantaged communities through tennis.