The big names are expected to make some noise at Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg this week and South Africa’s Lucas Sithole is ready to join the fight. The world number three quads player is gung-ho ahead of his SA Open title defence after mixed performances in the Gauteng Open this weekend pushed Sithole to re-evaluate his goals. The former US Open champion made an early exit in the Quads singles at the Gauteng Open, but less than an hour after he lost the semi-final to four-time champion David Wager, he was back to his fighting self.
Sithole partnered Wagner from the United States to a straight set victory in the Quads doubles final and left the Gauteng East Tennis Complex with renewed vigour and determination. After some serious introspection, Sithole was brutally honest about his semi-final performance. He says: ‘The reason I lost was plain and simple; I just didn’t show up. I wasn’t focussed; I wasn’t in the match. It felt like I was watching myself throw the match away and I was helpless to do anything about it. I can’t explain it any other way.’
Sithole broke through to win his national Open last year and the victory sparked a great run for the South African. He celebrated podium finishes in the British Open, Korea Open, Daegu Open, the Nottingham Indoor Tournament and the BNP Paribas World Team Cup with Alfredo di Cosmo from Italy and he signed off on the 2015 season with another visit to the winner’s circle in the Johannesburg Open. In January, Sithole travelled to Australia where he reached the semi-final of the Apia International Sydney Open, the final of the Melbourne Open and finished third in the Australian Open – the first Grand Slam of the season.
A lot was expected from the country’s top tennis ace in the first of the two UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour events. Sithole says: ‘I put so much pressure on myself to win at home that I got in my own way. But I got my act together for the quads doubles and that victory was a huge boost. It gave me an injection of confidence and it just woke me up to what I’m trying to do this year. The Paralympics are coming and I can’t afford to lose focus. It’s an important year and this is an important week, so I’m going to throw the whole Lucas Sithole at them.’
Sithole’s main rivals in the 2016 title bid are world number one Dylan Alcott, number two ranked Wagner and fourth ranked Andy Lapthorne from Britain, the winner in 2013. Two-time Australian Open champion Alcott had his first taste of success at the Gauteng Open where he defeated Wagner in three sets and he is hungry for more. The 25-year-old says: ‘I played the Gauteng Open as a means to acclimatise to the altitude and to get my game ready for the SA Open, but it was great to pull off a win in my first event in South Africa. It just leaves you hungry for more. The SA Open is the second Super Series tournament of the season and that means this week is serious business. Everyone is going to step it up and more so Lucas as the defending champion. It’s not going to be smooth sailing for anyone.’
Meanwhile South Africa’s Evans Maripa will join the men’s singles action and world number eight Kgothatso ‘KG’ Montane will fly the flag for South Africa in the Women’s singles. Defending champion Nicolas Peifer from France could face huge opposition from compatriot Stephane Houdet in the men’s singles after the world number one claimed the Gauteng Open title on Sunday, while world number one and reigning champion Jiske Griffioen from the Netherlands will definitely look to avenge her final round loss at the Gauteng Open to world number two Yui Kamiji.
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