Photo: Reg CaldecottItay Erenlib (ISR)
Lucas Sithole and Itay Erenlib meet in the first of this week’s singles finals at the ACSA SA Open, part of the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, when the top two seeds go head-to-head for the quad title on Thursday at Ellis Park Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg.
Friday’s finals will include an all-Dutch encounter also between the top two seeded players as Diede de Groot faces fellow Dutchwoman Marjolein Buis.
Sithole started his home Super Series tournament having dropped to No. 5 in the world rankings as Erenlib replaced the South African 30-year-old in the top four. However, Sithole will aim to redress the balance of power and regain the SA Open title he last won in 2015 after defeating compatriot Ronewa Mudzanani 60 61 in his semifinal.
“I played well. I was free, doing the basics well and the results were good. I think Ronewa was nervous for a few points but some of the points he played really well,” said Sithole, whose semifinal challenge was delayed by persistent rain that pushed the start of Wednesday’s play back four hours.
“I’m very happy in terms of my game – my serving and mobility are good. I’m covering the court really well and now have a good feel of the balls, which are very heavy, especially in this cold weather. It’s difficult to generate speed on the ball but I’m happy with what I’ve been doing so far and can’t wait for the final.”
Top seed Sithole will go into the quad final unbeaten in three previous matches against Erenlib, who booked his place in the decider with a 61 63 victory over world No. 10 Antony Cotterill.
De Groot hunts first Super Series singles title
In 2013 the SA Open was upgraded to Super Series status, the highest tier of tournament on the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour outside of Grand Slams.
The same year Buis won her first Super Series title in South Africa and she will either regain the title on Friday or de Groot will emulate her countrywoman in claiming the first Super Series title of her own career in Johannesburg.
World No. 3 and top seed de Groot beat another of her countrywomen and another former SA Open champion in Aniek van Koot 75 61 in Wednesday’s semifinals, booking her place in her second Super Series final of the year in the process. De Groot was runner-up to world No. 1 Jiske Griffioen in January’s Sydney International Open.
De Groot, who battled back from 4-1 down to win the first set of her semifinal, was delighted with reaching the final of her first tournament on South African soil.
“It feels really good. It’s my first time here so it’s a new experience to be here in South Africa and it’s going really well so I’m happy. It’s always tough against Marjolein and it’s Dutch against Dutch, which is always a battle, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Buis furthered her bid to regain the title by ending home hopes in the women’s singles, the second seed halting world No. 10 Kgothatso Montjane’s progress 62 61.
“It feels so good – I’m really happy that I’ve made it to the final,” said Buis. “I’m really looking forward to the match against Diede – she’s first seed, I’m second seed and I’ve got nothing to lose. Of course my aim is to win this tournament so I’m looking forward to it.
“Diede is a big hitter. She has a big forehand and a big backhand so it’s important for me to push hard on the court and create enough pressure myself.”
Olsson defeats former champion Peifer
Sweden’s Stefan Olsson joins the world’s top three players in the men’s singles semifinals after ending Nicolas Peifer’s hopes of reaching a third successive SA Open final and winning a second successive Super Series title.
World No. 7 and 2016 Wimbledon finalist Olsson beat January’s Sydney Open champion Peifer, the 2015 champion and 2016 runner-up in Johannesburg, 62 75 to book a last four meeting with defending champion and world No. 1 Stephane Houdet.
Houdet, the 2013, 2014 and 2016 champion at Ellis Park, brought the South African men’s singles challenge to an end with his 60 64 victory over seventh seed Evans Maripa.
With world No. 2 Joachim Gerard and world No. 3 Gordon Reid both within striking distance of Houdet’s world No.1 ranking, they meet in Thursday’s other semifinal in Johannesburg after Reid secured his third win of 2017 over his compatriot Alfie Hewett. As the Rio Paralympic finalists met for the fourth time this season Reid won their latest head-to-head 64 36 61.
Gerard’s path to the last four proved somewhat more straightforward as the Rio bronze medallist eased past eighth seed Yoshinobu Fujimoto of Japan 61 62.