South Africa’s Lucas Sithole and Kgothatso Montjane both made it through to the quarter-finals of the Airports Company South Africa SA Open at Ellis Park on Wednesday, and on a day when 300 children were shown the skills of the world’s best wheelchair tennis players. Sithole is through to the quads quarterfinals after a comfortable 6-0 6-1 victory over Swede Petter Edstrom, while Montjane progressed to the women’s singles quarterfinals with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Mariska Venter. It was the perfect result for the children who attended a development clinic at this Super Series event on the International Tennis Federation’s Wheelchair Tennis Tour. And it reflected the desire of both Sithole and Montjane to make an impression in front of their home crowd this week.
“This is one of the biggest tournaments for me, and I want to use it to attack that number one spot,” said world number two Sithole, who again seems on course to meet world number one David Wagner in the quads final. Wagner beat him in the final of last week’s Gauteng Open on this Airports Company South Africa series, and the American progressed easily on Wednesday with a 6-2 6-1 victory over South Africa’s Bongani Dlamini. “I took a lot from last week and which I worked on in this match. Moving my opponent around the court was one of them,” said Sithole.
Both Sithole and Wagner will have a new threat to deal with this week in Britain’s Andrew Lapthorne, the winner of this title for the past two years. Lapthorne is also through to the quarters following a 6-1 6-1 victory over Israel’s Itay Erinlib. “I’ve won this event the last two years and I just seem to love it. My game seems to suit the altitude and the courts here. The first match is always tough and you don’t know how you’re going to play, so it’s always good to get it out of the way quite quickly and move on to the next one,” he said.
The adjustment to the high altitude in Johannesburg was an initial concern for many of the top seeds. “It’s about adapting the way you play and playing higher balls and hitting with more spin,” said Lapthorne. It was a factor that ensured Montjane had to work a little harder than she would’ve liked in her women’s singles match against Venter.
“It’s always important to get the job done so I’m glad I could pull it through. But the higher altitude means you need to be careful. The balls wear out quickly so you lose that grip on the ball, and I struggled with that control. It takes one game like this to figure it out, but the conditions are different so I think you need to ready for anything from any player,” she said. World number one Sabine Ellerbrock echoed these sentiments after her 6-1 6-0 victory over South African Pauline Helouin.
“The balls are bouncing higher here so you have to get used to that. But I feel good and I’m prepared for the quarterfinals,” she said of a women’s singles draw that has been boosted with the addition of two more world top 10 players this week in Aniek van Koot and Marjolein Buis of The Netherlands. Both also won on Wednesday. “As the number one seed you are always under pressure to win. I just need to relax and enjoy myself out there. The quarters are nearly all top 10 players, so I expect a few tough matches coming up.” In the men’s singles, last week’s Gauteng Open champion and world number two Stephane Houdet led the charge into the quarterfinals with a 6-0 6-1 victory over Lhaj Boukartach.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott