Great Start To SA Open Wheelchair Event

The Airports Company South Africa wheelchair tennis series continues with the SA Open at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium this week, with three world number ones and at least 16 world top 10 players in action.  The Super Series event forms part of the International Tennis Federation’s Wheelchair Tennis Tour, and is one of the top six wheelchair tennis tournaments in the world.  And most of the top seeds had no trouble getting through Tuesday’s first round.

French men’s singles top seed and world number two Stephane Houdet beat countryman David Dalmasso 6-1 6-0 as he goes in search of back-to-back titles after winning last week’s Gauteng Open.  And South Africa’s Gift Lekhanyane produced a major upset when the former South African top-ranked junior and now 250 in the world beat world number 69 Wolfgang Stieg of Austria 6-4 7-5.  But South Africa’s top two ranked players in the men’s singles faced a tough opening draw and were both knocked out on Tuesday.

South African number one Evans Maripa was beaten 6-1 6-3 by world number three Gordon Reid of Great Britain, while Leon Els went down 6-1 6-0 to Japan’s Takashi Sanada.  But this week was always going to be a challenge for Maripa, whose mother passed away last week.  “Personally it’s been tough. I lost my mom a week ago and I haven’t really trained very well. I arrived late yesterday and then tried to get some training in early before my first-round match, but I need time to get my rhythm going,” said Maripa.

Reid, meanwhile, was delighted with his start after losing in the quarterfinals of last week’s Gauteng Open.  “Evans can be a really dangerous player, so I’m happy to come out with that score and play a little bit better than I did last week.  But I also realise it was difficult for Evans because he’s had a few personal issues in the last few days.  It was always going to be tough for him to play.”  Houdet will again be the biggest threat in the men’s singles. But the French Grand Slam champion is wary of the effect the altitude will have on play this week.

“The conditions were tough because I didn’t expect the balls to fly that much,” he said after his victory over Dalmasso.  “It was hard to control the ball at altitude, so my aim was to just keep the ball in court.  I think you’ll see some tough matches because they may only come down to serve and return, and not many rallies because of the altitude.”

In the other men’s singles matches, seventh seed Tom Egberink of The Netherlands is through after his 6-0 6-0 victory over South Africa’s Tshepo Makwela; fifth seed Nicolas Peifer beat South Africa’s Mayenzeke Gwija 6-0 6-0; Takuya Miki beat countryman Yoshinobu Fujimoto 6-3 6-2; and fourth seed Frederic Cattaneo beat South Africa’s Frank Ramokoatsi 6-1 6-1.  On Wednesday, the top seeds in the women’s singles will be in action, including world number one Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany and South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane.  The quads will also get their campaign underway on Wednesday, with American world number one David Wagner and South Africa’s world number two Lucas Sithole in action.

Tuesday’s opening ceremony was attended by several diplomatic officials; the Deputy Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu; and the main sponsor.  “We started this journey of supporting wheelchair tennis 10 years ago, when there were less than 10 players.  Now we have almost 500 players in 50 centres around South Africa.  As a sponsor this gives us a great sense of fulfilment,” said Ndiphiwe Ntuli, Airports Company South Africa Senior Manager.

Photo credit: Reg Caldecott