Lucas Sithole had the South African wheelchair tennis fans dancing on centre court after he defeated British world number three Andy Lapthorne in a three-set humdinger in the quad singles semi-final at the SA Open on Friday. Sithole won 3-6 6-3 6-4 and will face defending champion and world number one David Wagner for a second successive week in Saturday’s final. Sithole will go up against Wagner for a third straight year after the American dispatched unseeded Ymanitu Silva in straight sets 6-0 6-1.
Sithole had just one message for his fans: ‘This time the trophy stays in Mzansi. I learned a lot from my loss to David at the Gauteng Open last week. My coach (Holger Losch) and I analysed the match and identified what went wrong in the final. We’ve worked hard at correcting the mistakes and plan new strategies. It worked well against Andy, so I am bringing the same positive energy to the match against David.’ After losing the first set, Sithole showed grit and determination to win the second and level the match. The South African broke serve twice early in the final set to take a 5-1 lead, but Lapthorne did not exit quietly.
The Brit held serve in the notorious seventh game, broke the cramping Sithole serve after five deuces in the eighth game and held serve again to win the ninth game. Sithole regrouped in the 10th game to lead 40-15 and broke through for victory with an ace on his eighth match point to clinch the final set 6-4. Sithole says: ”My nerves got to me in the final set and Andy pounced; he is a really fierce competitor and he attacked when I showed my nerves. He kept swinging, but at the same time played it safe while I waited for my nerves to settle. I came at him in the final game. I knew I could take it, but I had to give myself a chance to get my confidence up.’
Mens singles defending champion Stephane Houdet is targeting a hat-trick of SA Open titles and is relishing an all-French final against Nicolas Peifer. The French world number two was nervous to tackle last week’s Gauteng Open champion and his regular doubles partner Joachim Gerard from Belgium in the semi-finals, but clinched the match 7-5 7-6(3). Houdet says: ‘I have only been using my new chair for two weeks and Joachim is in great form, so I was a little worried. I lost seven straight points to him at the start of the first set, but then I moved well back from the base line and I was able to rally for the win. I’ve never lost at this centre court, so hopefully my luck will hold out again tomorrow.’
Peifer defeated unseeded Takashi Sanada from Japan in three sets 2-6 6-2 6-4. A week after she beat South Africa’s KG Montjane for the Gauteng Open title, Marjolein Buis from the Netherlands bowed out to country women Jiske Griffioen in the women’s singles semi-finals. The world number three and tournament favourite clinched the match 6-2 4-6 6-3 and will meet second seed Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany in the final. Ellerbrock, who is nursing a rotator cuff injury, showed no sign of discomfort as she whipped eighth-seed Kaitlyn Verfuerth 6-1 6-1 to make her second successive final.
The German world number four says: ‘I don’t feel any pressure at all. I wanted to make the semi-finals to defend my world ranking points and I’ve done that. I feel quite relaxed about the final and I’ll just play my game and see where it takes me.’ The finals of the SA Open will be played from 09:00 on Saturday at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Entry is free with safe and secure parking. SuperSport will show the finals live on SS Select South Africa from 09:00.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott