Leon Els Ready To Cause A Racket At Ellis Park

Ernie Els’ challenge at the Masters went downhill fast after the first round, but namesake Leon Els hopes to advance well past the first hurdle as he joins a host South African hopefuls in the second round of the Airports Company South Africa SA Open.  The 27-year-old Els beat compatriot Ishmael Tshipuke 6-0 6-1 and will play Dutchman Tom Egberink in the Mens Singles of the Super Series event at Ellis Park Tennis Stadium on Wednesday.  Els and the Dutch seventh seed are regular practice partners, but this will be the first time the pair will meet head-to-head.

A wrist injury derailed his challenge in last year’s event and Els is primed to make the most of match.  Els says:  ‘I think I can give Tom a run for his money.  He has been around for many years and he is a very experienced opponent.  I know his game very well and I know what to expect: a great serve and forehand and a very good slice.  But my game is very solid at the moment.  My forehand and serve is working well and I’m really excited about this game.  Anytime you get the chance to play against a seed, it’s an opportunity to grow, to gain experience and to test the level of your game.’  While the country’s top tennis ace Kgothatso ‘KG’ Montjane enjoyed a bye, rising stars Mariska Venter and Thando Hlatshwayo advanced to the second round in the Women’s Singles.

Hlatshwayo defeated Letabo Shai 6-0 6-1 and will face second seed Sabine Ellerbrock from Germany, while Venter, who double bagled Thandeka Dhladhla, will play eighth seed Kaitlyn Verfuerth from the United States.  Fifth seed Montjane will face unseeded Emmanuelle Morch from France.  Nokwanda Hlongwane came up trumps in a three-setter against compatriot Nonkanyiso Nyosi and beat her compatriot 2-6 6-2 6-3.

She will play reigning Airports Company South Africa Gauteng Open champion Marjolein Buis from the Netherlands.  Dutch top seed Jiske Griffeon will also take the court against unseeded Miho Nijo from Japan.  The top seeds in the Quad Singles division will also join the second action after a first round bye.

South Africa’s Lucas Sithole, seeded third, will meet Stephane Erisman from France, while second seed Andy Lapthorne from Great Britain will play Danny Mohlamanye.  World number one David Wagner, who defeated Sithole for his second successive Airports Company South Africa Gauteng Open title, is targeting a hat-trick of Airports Company South Africa SA Open titles this week.  The American will open his challenge against Ronewa Mudzanani, who beat Queen Nhlapo 6-1 6-3.

All eight seeds in the Mens Singles remained unchallenged in the first round, including defending champion Stephane Houdet from France, who is also hunting his third consecutive victory.  The Frenchman defeated Marshall Marsh 6-0 6-1 in his first round clash.  South Africa’s Evans Maripa crashed out, beaten by the experience of world number six Nicolas Peifer from France.

Peifer took the first set 6-0, but Maripa came from 5-1 down to win three successive games before Frenchman closed out the match 6-4.  The world number 12 was frustrated by the loss, but upbeat about his form.  Maripa says:  ‘I’m really happy with the way I have improved in the last two months and if I look back 12 months, I’ve come a really long way.  My goal is to break into the top 10 in the world rankings by the end of the season and I believe that I have the game to do it.  I just need to work on the mental side of things and play a little smarter.’

Photo credit: Reg Caldecott/Gallo Images