by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor (Interviews by Olalekan Okusan)
Musfiquh Kalam beat Grace Rosi Yee (12-10, 12-14, 11-6, 4-11, 11-9), before Keshmika Sivnarain accounted for Sally Yee (15-13, 11-6, 11-3) and Lekeasha Johnson ended proceedings by overcoming Ruta Ioane (11-3, 11-8, 11-3).
It was a fitting end to the campaign for a team that was not considered a medal contender and it was a finish one place higher than their seeded position; their efforts received warm applause from the spectators in the Grand West Event Centre in Cape Town.
“We came into this competition with the intention of learning from the top players and I think we have been able to do that. Also, for the first time, we played as a team and we were united in defeat and victory. As a lowly rated team in the competition, it was amazing that we did not finish last, we improved our ranking from 20 to 19; this alone showed that we have improved individually and as a team. Hosting the Championship also afforded us the opportunity to see some of the world’s best and pick something from their style of play”, Lekeasha Johnson
It was an opportunity, the fact that the tournament was staged in South Africa gave the host nation players the chance to compete in a global event that may not have otherwise been afforded.
“We have assessed our performance against the top teams and this has shown us that we need to continue to work even harder; this competition is indeed a good exposure for us and it has also given us a lot of confidence. We will work hard in the years to come, so we can start rub shoulders with the world’s best”, Keshmika Sivnarain
It was for the whole team a learning experience and also it was a motivational experience. The South Africans being able to watch players like Japan’s Mima Ito and Miu Hirano both who have succeeded in World title events, was for all the South African girls a chance to witness the levels that can be achieved.
Most certainly, Musfiquh Kalam born on Wednesday 1st May 2002, the same date as Grace Rosi Yee, being only 14 years old, is of an age when rapid progress is possible.
“I have never played in this kind of atmosphere before but with what I watched in this competition, I am thrilled and I believe that when I get back to my training I will practise what I learned. When the competition started I was a bit nervous but as it progressed I gained confidence; as a member of the team, we bonded together during every match and we also supported one another and that is another thing we have been able to achieve with this competition. I am so happy that my parents came to watch me play”, Musfiquh Kalam
Not on duty in the contest against Fiji but a valued member of the South Africa Girls’ Team was Mthabiseng Mtshoelibe; like her colleagues the fact she represented her country on home soil will live long in the memory.
“I am so proud to be part of this team particularly wearing the national colours in front of South Africans; this alone is a dream come true for me. I had the opportunity to watch and learn from some of the players I have only heard about and watched on television. This for me is awesome and I hope we can build on the experience to become better players and team.” Mthabiseng Mtshoelibe
One challenge over now for the South Africans the individual events await, as in the team events, a medal is not a realistic option, the task is to make progress, to improve, to once again seize the opportunity that awaits.