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Top South African wheelchair tennis stars stood their ground on USA soil

Two of South Africa’s top wheelchair tennis stars; Lucas Sithole, ranked no. 11 in the world in the Quad’s division and Kgothatso Montjane ranked no. 10 in the Women’s division, just returned from a successful tour to the USA. They took part in three tournaments; the Cajun Classic, the Pensacola Open and the Florida Open.

Both Kgothatso and Lucas played with heart, tenacity, and guts. Although they did not break into single digits, they achieved significant personal goals, and further cemented their position as two of the top players in the world.

The Cajun Classic, an ITF Level 1 Event (21-25 March 2012) in Baton Rouge, USA saw impressive performances for Lucas Sithole, where he defeated the world no. 13 Shota Kawano (JPN) in the opening Quads singles round to set up a quarterfinal against Nick Taylor of the USA. A solid, focused performance from Sithole earned him a thrilling win of 6-2 6-3 over the world no. 5. The semifinals saw Sithole facing the 2nd seed Andrew Lapthorne (GBR). Lapthorne, presently no 4 in the world, is considered one of the tour’s fiercest competitors as he came from nowhere to be ranked in the top 5 in less than 2 years. Lapthorne vs. Sithole, the tour’s other player marked as talented and dangerous, were a match up which drew the crowds. Sadly, Lapthorne’s mobility and match experience at that level proved to be just too much for Sithole on the day, losing a closely contested battle 6-2 6-3.

The Pensacola Open, an ITF level 1 Event (30 March – 3 April) in Pensacola, USA saw Sithole on form. He secured a confident straight set win over Takahiro Koga (JPN) defeating him 6-0 6-2. The talented South African then faced the no. 1 ranked player in the world; Peter Norfolk (GBR) in the quarterfinals. Sithole played with confidence and the top seed Norfolk had to unpack all his big shots to ensure a win over the rising star. Sithole (RSA) lost 6-2 6-2. In the third and final event, the Florida Open, a Super Series Event (April 6-10, 2012) in Boca Raton, Florida, USA the world no. 11 Lucas Sithole (RSA) won a cliff hanger first round match against Mitsuteru Moroishi (JPN) 7-6 (4) 7-5. In the second round, Sithole had another lengthy battle to secure a glorious victory over the world no. 7 Anders Hard from Sweden 7-6 (3) 6-1 6-2 to set up a rematch in the quarterfinal against Peter Norfolk (GBR) world no.1. The quarterfinal was exciting and certainly did not fall short of drama; after an extended match; 5 hours of play and 4 rain delays Norfolk won 6-2 6-1.

Kgothatso Montjane, SA’s Golden Girl, also had a great tour, achieving many personal goals and reaffirming her belief she belongs in the top 6 in the world. Her tour started with a bang, where she faced Ju-Yeon Park (KOR) in the 2nd round of the Cajun Classic. A determined Kgothatso Montjane won the match 5-7 6-4 6-1 to set up a challenging quarterfinal against world no. 2 Aniek van Koot (NED). Once again Montjane (RSA) displayed shear tenacity and confidence not making it easy the world no 2, who narrowly won 7-6 (3) 7-5. Most notably, Montjane was the only player in the tournament to take more than a few games off the world no 2.

In the second week, the Pensacola Open, the women’s singles started with Kgothatso Montjane (RSA) progressing to the 2nd round after facing Dorrie Timmermans-van Hall (NED) who retired in the second set with Montjane leading 6-2 3-0. Montjane had a tough draw facing world no. 6 Annick Sevenans (BEL) in the second round. A stand out first set made the world sit up straight; Kgothatso Montjane took the set with ease, but Sevanans was quick to retaliate, taking the second 6-2. This set the stage for a mammoth third set battle. Montjane put up another tremendous fight, and displayed great character, Sevenans however took the match 2-6 6-2 7-5. In the third and final week, in the Florida Open, Montjane won her opening match defeating Henriett Koosz (AUT) in straight sets. In the 2nd round Kgothatso Montjane (RSA) again faced Annick Sevenans (BEL) world no. 6 for the second successive week hoping to this time turn the tables. The Belgium player showed to be the better player on the day winning 6-2 6-4.

Holger Losch, Director and Performance Coach said: “I am very proud and excited about the players’ performance. They both played good matches, displayed great spirit, and most importantly confirmed the belief they belong in the top players in the world. Both the players and I strongly believe that with a little more work, there is no reason they can’t beat players ranked as high as 1 and 2 in the world, and take up their rightful spots in the top 5.”

Participation in local and international tournaments such as these is made possible by the generous sponsorships offered by Airports Company South Africa, the official sponsor of the sport.

Other resources worth a visit include: www.tennis.co.za; or join our Facebook group: Wheelchair Tennis SA and follow us on Twitter: @WCTennis.

Published by The BLD Group