Lucas Sithole Wins SA Open

South Africa’s Lucas “Twister” Sithole was the coolest customer on centre court at Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday as he closed out a three-set victory against world number one David Wagner at the SA Open quad singles final.  Just a week after losing the Gauteng Open final in Benoni to the American, Sithole came back from set down to upset the defending champion 3-6 6-3 6-3.  The upsets continued as Frenchman Nicolas Peifer dethroned two-time winner and compatriot Stephane Houdet in the men’s singles title clash 5-7 6-2 6-1, while world number three and first seed Jiske Griffioen from the Netherlands rallied from one set down to defeat Sabine Ellerbrock from Germany 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-1 for the women’s singles title.

Sithole lost to Wagner in two successive finals at Ellis Park in 2013 and 2014, but he levelled a warning at Wagner when he beat world number three Andy Lapthorne from Great Britain in the semi-final on Friday.  Wagner controlled the first set, but Sithole rebounded in the second and dominated the third.  Sithole says:  ‘I made a very sloppy start in the first set.  He pushed me to the corner on my back hand and I couldn’t get any rhythm going.  He broke me at an early stage and I lost important points, but I started playing my own game in the second set and things started to happen.  I had a little talk to myself in the toilet break after the second set and then I came out to win the match.’

Sithole broke Wagner’s serve in the opening game of the final set and then held serve until the ninth game, when he broke Wagner again to win the decider.  It was a huge breakthrough for Sithole, who also beat Wagner for the 2013 US Open title and the Super Series Japan Open in May last year.  The Newcastle native says:  ‘These two victories in the semi-final and final means that my coach (Holger Losch) and I are on the right track with my training and strategies.  I am excited about the future and I am hungry for more victories.  I am really thankful to Airports Company South Africa for giving us two tournaments here at home and for everything they do for the development of wheelchair tennis.  I saw a lot of kids out there and I hope I have inspired them to reach for greater heights.  It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are – with hard work, dedication and a team like Wheelchair Tennis South Africa on your side, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.’

Peifer, also coming off a final loss in last week’s Gauteng Open final, was almost clinical in his destruction of Houdet.  The world number two battled to win the opening set, but Peifer levelled the match in the second and broke Houdet in the third game of the final set.  He won the next five games on the trot to march to victory.

The world number six says:  ‘South Africa has been good for me.  I’ve had two really great weeks and leaving with a Super Series win is a huge bonus for me.’  Griffioen who won the Australian Open in January and moved one step closer to reeling in world number one Yui Kamiji with her first Super Series victory this season.  She says:  ‘I really struggled with the altitude when I came here two years ago.  I really wanted to come back and see how I would do this time and I think it went really well.

Photo credit: Reg Caldecott/Gallo Images