Lucas Sithole © Reg Caldecott
South African No 1 ranked quads player Lucas Sithole marched on in his quest to regain the SA Open wheelchair tennis title, cruising through Wednesday’s semifinal match at the Ellis Park Tennis Stadium.
Sithole defeated compatriot Ronewa Mudzanani 6-0, 6-1 to book his place in Thurday’s quads final where he’ll come up against a much tougher opponent in second-seeded Itay Erenlib of Israel.
Erenlib defeated Britain’s Antony Cotterill 6-1, 6-3 in his semifinal to book his date with Sithole.
“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 afterwards.
“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.”
Speaking about taking on Erenlib, who at fourth in the world is ranked one place above him, in the final, the Jo’burg-based 30-year-old said: “I’m feeling good. At least I’m going to get a little bit of a challenge. It’s going to test me.
“I think I’ve played Erenlib once before which was here in South Africa two years back and I won in the third set. But I think things will be different because I have improved a lot. I saw he’s also improved on his forehand so I’m just going to try and play him on his backhand and make sure that I push him deep so I can get an easy ball to finish the match early. The only thing I need to do is keep my head on the court.
“My confidence is very high. It comes from the way I’m playing at the moment so I’m confident I’ll keep the title at home,” added the man who last won the SA Open in 2015.
In other semifinal action, which only got under way after rain washed out the entire morning session, South African women’s No 1, Kgothatso ‘KG’ Montjane lost out to Dutch No 2 seed Marjolein Buis.
Montjane put up a strong showing, which perhaps wasn’t evident by the 6-2, 6-1 scoreline, but couldn’t match the agility and speed of Buis, who will face compatriot Diede de Groot in Friday’s final.
No 1 seed De Groot defeated another compatriot – Rio Paralympic doubles gold medallist Aniek van Koot 7-5, 6-1 in the other women’s semifinal.
“It was a tough match and not the result I hoped for but performance-wise I still tried to stick to my stuff and she played a different game. I struggled with the pace,” said Montjane.
“I’m sure if you look at the scoresheet you’ll see how many unforced errors I did there and I know the score looks bad but it actually wasn’t as bad as it looked. I had so many close games I couldn’t convert. But other than that I’m still happy I made it to the semifinal.”
The victorious Buis was thrilled with her win. “It feels so good – I’m really happy that I’ve made it to the final,” she said.
“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 bit forehand and a big backhand so it’s important for me to push hard on the court and create enough pressure myself.”
De Groot, who battled back from 4-1 down to win that first set against Van Koot, was also 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.
Speaking of the final, she added: “It’s always tough against Marjolein and it’s Dutch against Dutch which is always a battle so I’m looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, South Africa’s Evans Maripa was knocked out the men’s quarterfinals by top seed Stéphane Houdet of France, losing 6-0, 6-4. Houdet will face Stefan Olsson in tomorrow’s semifinal after the Swede defeated Frenchman Nicolas Peifer 6-2, 7-5 in their quarterfinal.
The other semifinal will pit 2016 Paralympic champion Gordon Reid of Britain against Belgian Joachim Gerard after Reid beat compatriot Alfie Hewett 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 and Gerard defeated Yoshinobu Fujimoto of Japan 6-1, 6-2.