Team Guam ended their participation in the International Tennis Federation’s Billie Jean King Cup Juniors tournament in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Saturday with a stunning 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the playoffs for places ninth through 14
In singles No. 1, Fremont Gibson of Guam defeated Daniyah Alzuhair of Saudi Arabia 6-3, 6-3.
“I went into the match not expecting it to be easy,” Gibson said. “The start of the second set really started to test my willpower as I was down 1-2 and then 2-3. I struggled to keep my confidence but I focused and got on my shots and was able to finish the next two games and then the set.
“It’s always a great honor for me to play for Guam.”
In the No. 2 singles gum, Guam’s Sydney Packbier defeated Naya Souhail 6-2, 6-1.
Within five days, Gibson won 4 out of 5 singles games.
“Overall, the tournament was a great experience and I’m taking a lot away from it,” said Gibson.
Packbier, just as deadly as Gibson, also won 4 of 5 singles matches.
“I think this tournament was one of the best tournaments I’ve ever played in,” said Packbier. “I excelled both technically and mentally and it showed in my wins.”
Before leaving for Sri Lanka, Packbier, the defending champion of the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam, dominated high school tennis. She hasn’t been tested in almost two years, which she says cast doubt on her abilities. But after a successful campaign at the Billie Jean King tournament, she knows she can take on the best in the area.
Packbier said she proved herself that she is on the same level as these girls and has the ability to hold her own in higher level tournaments like this.
“It’s always nice to represent Guam in competitions like this,” said the sophomore at St. John’s School.
Throughout the tournament, Packbier kept surprising herself by dropping the No. 5 and adapting to clay, a surface she’d only seen from TV.
“Every second that I’ve been on these courts, I’ve learned something new about myself and my game, and I’ll take that with me as I continue to compete and play tennis,” she said.
Over the two-week period, Guam defeated Malaysia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, beating Nepal 2-1. In the round-robin pool match played in Group C, Malaysia, Nepal and Guam had each won two draws. But in terms of total games won, only Malaysia and Nepal made the top tier playoffs. However, after Saturday’s playoff round, no team from Group C made the top four. Kyrgyzstan, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Turkmenistan occupied the top of the ranking.
Team Guam coach Kishan Wicks described the event as a “fabulous experience”.
“They won all their games except the first one,” he said. “That was a great result to win all the other games.”
Although the loss to Qatar was bitter, it was an excellent learning experience for the whole team.
“I didn’t know what to expect at this tournament,” said Gibson. “Having to play on clay was very different from what I was used to, but I knew I had to do my best to get used to it.”
Gibson described her first game as “tough” and shared that she had “no feel for the court or the ball.”
“But after day one I learned to develop and control my game on clay and become more comfortable with the surface,” she added.
If Team Guam had won one more match, they would have advanced to the higher tier playoffs. Reflecting on the tournament, Wicks, a former Sri Lankan champion who runs the Guam National Tennis Center, knows how close they came.
“I have no doubt that if the result of the game had been a little different, we probably would have been in the final of the entire tournament for the girls – easy,” he said.
Team Guam coach Christian Penafiel enjoyed watching the pair get to grips with clay and win big games.
“I’ve traveled with Syd and Monti the most and seeing their best performance so far is the biggest moment for me this week,” he said after beating Saudi Arabia. “I’m very proud of her!”
At the Davis Cup Juniors competition for boys, also held on the Colombo clay courts, Team Guam defeated the Maldives 2-1 to give the boys their first win. In a thrilling three-set marathon match, Guam’s No. 1 defeated Jonny Jackson Daoud Shaheeb of the Maldives 7-6(5), 3-6, 10-3. In Singles Match #2, Guam’s Jacob Ji lost to Muhammed Nooh Nazih 6-1, 6-2. Ji, who lost all his singles matches, won his doubles match on Saturday. In a tough two-setter, Jackson and Ji Nooh defeated Nazih and Muhamed Rasheed 6-3, 7-5. The win gave the Guam boys their first team win of the tournament, 2-1.
“They got their first amazing double win in the entire tournament today,” said Wicks. “So that’s a great achievement for Jacob Ji.”
“Over the course of the week I feel like I played very well, but the surface was the biggest challenge for me,” Jackson said. “But every challenge is a good experience for me. Going forward, playing tennis, I’m really looking forward to going home and finishing the rest of the season and hopefully playing well in the All Island boys’ singles.
“I’m very proud of Jonny Jackson,” Wicks said. “He actually did what he was supposed to come here and do – top performance. All in all, I believe that we have really good young talent who can make a difference internationally.”
Amelie Perez-Terlaje also represented Guam and competed on the girls’ team. Perez-Terlaje never got that first win but came close and gained valuable experience.
“I have high hopes for Guam’s junior tennis,” Wicks said. “We have some really good players, we just have to keep them motivated and play strong.”