Tennis

Tennis player Marijke Nel to represent her new country in her old one

Nel, a new Canadian citizen, will compete in Cape Town, South Africa, next month

Marijke Nel stands by the net at the HEADStart Tennis Club in Clayton Park.   Josh Young

For the first time in her athletic career, Marijke Nel will be representing Canada, not her native country of South Africa, internationally at an upcoming competition.

The 2017 Young Seniors World Championships will be held March 19 to April 1 in Cape Town, South Africa — her home country.

“It is almost ironic that it is in South Africa and we might even play against South Africa,” said Nel.

Nel came to Canada representing South Africa at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2006. She loved the country and wanted to live here. Two years later, she got a job as a tennis coach at the former Courtyard Tennis and Fitness club in Bayers Lake. She is now the technical director for Tennis Nova Scotia.

Nel, 49, is an accomplished tennis player. She played for Kansas State University and was the first player from the school to qualify for the NCAA National Championships. She won two Rheinland BMW championships with her tennis club TC Schwarz-Wiess Montabaur in Germany and is a five-time Nova Scotia open singles champion.

Last August she won the doubles with Andreanne Martin in the 45-50 age group at the Steve Stevens Senior National Championships. The win allowed her to compete for Canada at this year’s International Tennis Federation event in South Africa.

There was one problem. In order for Nel to represent Canada at the tournament, she had to be a Canadian citizen.

Becoming a citizen

Nel was not eligible to send in her citizenship application until Nov. 1, 2016, and it usually takes around a year to receive it. With the tournament set for March, Nel didn’t have a lot of time. She contacted her MP, Geoff Regan, to see if he could help her get her citizenship process sped up. She said he sent a letter to Canadian Immigration and Citizenship, and then she ended up taking her citizenship test on Jan. 10. She passed and received her citizenship on Jan. 17.

Nel says she is honoured to be a Canadian citizen, but she is more honoured to be able to represent Canada on an international stage.

“I think that is the next level of honour,” said Nel. “To be sent out there I think that is going to be a profound moment. You are standing there wearing Canadian colours and representing this country as its citizen now.”

Nel is from Richards Bay, which is 1,799 kilometres away from Cape Town (about the same distance as Halifax to Toronto), but her parents, siblings and friends are planning to watch her compete. She is not sure how they feel about her playing for Canada instead of South Africa, but Nel feels ready to represent her new country.

“I grew up in South Africa and my family still lives there so that, in part, will always remain my homeland, but being able to represent Canada and all it had to offer was a moment I had arrived at,” said Nel.

“I really am ready to compete for Canada. I had done my duty to South Africa. I came here representing South Africa with that kind of patriotism and loyalty that I now have to Canada.”

Nel has been appointed captain of the Canadian team. As captain, it is her job to set up the team strategically for matches. She hopes to lead her team to finish in the top half of the tournament. As a competitor, she hopes to get through the first two rounds.

Nel in position to serve the ball.   Josh Young

Roger Keating, the executive director of Tennis Nova Scotia, said Nel is a mentally strong player and always has the mentality that she is going to win. He said one of her strengths on the court is that she can play a strong game close to the net.

“She likes to be aggressive and more of a net player so her game will be to try to attack the net and take time away from the other player,” said Keating.

With the issue of her citizenship settled, Nel is focused on the championship next month.

“I am going to make sure I am the fittest, strongest, damn best tennis player I can possibly be.”