Good news for tennis fans is that some of the world’s best wheelchair tennis players have entered the upcoming Airports Company South Africa international series. Wheelchair Tennis South Africa confirmed on Tuesday that no less than nineteen top 10 world ranked players had entered the Airports Company South Africa Gauteng Open (8-12 April) and Airports Company South Africa African Open (14-18 April). This includes world number one Quad player, David Wagner of the USA.
Both tournaments form part of the UNIQLO world tour with the Gauteng Open a Grade 1 and SA Open a Super Series graded event. Eighteen nations including hosts South Africa will be represented in the back to back events. The top ratings of the two tournaments to be played in Benoni and Johannesburg respectively offer valuable world ranking points which will help the players not only with their individual world ranking but also assist them qualify for the major wheelchair tennis events including the Grand Slams.
In the men’s singles eight of the top ten players have entered with flamboyant Frenchman Stephane Houdet ranked two heading the list. Other notable names in the men’s draw are popular world number four, Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina and fifth ranked Joachim Gerard of Germany. Houdet has won an impressive 32 singles and 60 doubles titles including 13 Grand Slam crowns.
The 44-year old was also the world number one in June of 2012. Last year Houdet beat Brit Gordon Reid to win the title in Johannesburg. Reid will be absent from this year’s line-up.
South Africa’s best chance in the men’s singles will be rising star Evans Maripa of Limpopo, ranked 12 in the world. Maripa is at his career-high world ranking and is hoping for a good showing in Benoni and Johannesburg to break into the world’s top ten. In the women’s singles only four of the world’s top 10 will not be making the trip to South Africa.
World number three player Jiske Griffioen of The Netherlands will spearhead the challenge. Former world number one Van Koot who reached the semi-finals of this year’s Australian Open and the defending champion of the Airports Company South Africa SA Open unfortunately withdrew from her trip to South Africa on Tuesday due to injury. Kgothatso (KG) Montjane, South Africa’s top world-ranked women player, will be posing a strong challenge to the top players.
Ranked just inside the top ten at number nine, Montjane has beaten most of the players ranked above her at one stage in her career. Once again there will be much interest in the Quad division where three of the world’s top four players will be in action. World number one and defending champion, David Wagner of the USA will be looking to continue his domination of the Quad’s division but as always will be strongly challenged by third-ranked Andrew Lapthorne of Great Britain and South Africa’s own Lucas Sithole.
Fourth-ranked Sithole has been Wagner’s biggest rival since 2012 and beat the American to win the 2013 US Open title. But Wagner has dominated the Quads division of the game having lost only 9 of 44 matches played and has won every major title on offer. KG Montjane said that it was a real honour to participate in this tournament once again: ‘One of the biggest challenges facing the sport is lack of publicity. We are grateful that Airports Company South Africa is on board and has placed a huge role in not only providing a platform for us to showcase our talent but to also create wider interest in the sport. The cooperation between Airports Company South Africa and Wheelchair Tennis South Africa has taken the sport to a new level.’