ELS SET FOR GAUTENG OPEN HUMDINGER
South Africa’s Leon Els effortlessly cleared the first hurdle in the Gauteng Open, but the Potchefstroom player anticipates a second round whopper in the men’s singles against defending champion Joachim Gerard from Belgium on Thursday.
Els swept aside compatriot Vuyisani Mantshula in straight sets 6-2 6-0, while Gerard dispatched Ben Weeks from Australia 6-3 6-2 in his opener at the Gauteng East Tennis Complex in Benoni.
In the 12 months since Gerard defeated Frenchman Nicolas Peifer to win the Level 1 International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament in his first visit to South Africa, he has risen to fourth in the world rankings. Victory in the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters in December lifted the lanky Belgian within striking distance of third ranked Peifer.
“In my opinion, Joachim is the best player in the world when his game is hot,” said Els. “He is just 13 points behind Nicholas. With the Paralympic deadline looming, he will be gunning to get to the number two or three spot. He has made no bones about defending his points this week and I know he will bring everything to the match.
“If I beat him, I’ll be a hero but realistically I am the underdog. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I don’t often get the chance to go up against top 10 players and I want to make the most of this chance to play Joachim to gain as much experience as possible.”
Does Els believe he has the game to beat Gerard?
“That’s the beauty of this sport,” said Els. “Any player can win on any given day if he is on song. He is a very aggressive player who likes to take control of the match, but if I stick to my game and prevent him from dominating, I definitely have a chance. The key will be to keep him guessing.”
Gerard spent the last six weeks preparing for the two Airports Company South Africa sponsored events on the global UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour.
“The conditions here are great and I definitely want to make the most of my two weeks in South Africa,” said Gerard.
“I did a lot of fitness training to cope with the altitude and the hard balls, because the conditions suit my aggressive style. I want to make it all the way to the final in the SA Open, because it’s a Super Series event with big world ranking points to play for. This week is all about defending my title and fine tuning for the SA Open.”
World number one Stephane Houdet from France showed the class that lifted him to top of the men’s singles world rankings after the Australian Open in January.
The 45-year-old right-hander made quick work of his match against unseeded Zujun Wei and beat the Chinese player 6-1 6-1. The number one seed will face Ricky Moller from Belgium in the second round after the unseeded Belgian took out South Africa’s Ewald Lamprecht 6-1 6-0.
Peifer, seeded second, knocked out Agustin Ledesma from Argentina 6-0 6-2, while third seed Takashi Sanada from Japan routed Ayoub Ettali from Morroco 6-1 6-1.
Sixth seed Adam Kellerman from Australia defeated South Africa’s Marshall Marsh 6-0 6-3 and former world number one Stefan Olsson from Sweden crushed local hopes when he dispatched the South African number one Evans Maripa 7-5 6-4.
Maripa enjoyed two single and two doubles victories in the last year and was quite disappointed with his performance.
“I let myself down in the match,” said Maripa. “I went for too many big points instead of trying to win the rallies and only have myself to blame. I’m still in the doubles with Joachim, so I’ll focus all my energy on getting to the final so I can sharpen my game for the SA Open next week.”
MEN’S SINGLES RESULTS:
RSA unless stated
1-Stephane Houdet (FRA) bt Zujun Wei (CHN) 6-1 6-1
2-Nicolas Peifer (FRA) bt Agustin Ledesma (ARG) 6-0 6-2
3-Joachim Gerard (BEL) bt Ben Weekes (AUS) 6-3 6-2
4-Stefan Olsson (SWE) bt Evans Maripa 7-5 6-4
5-Takashi Sanada (JPN) bt Ayoub Ettali (MAR) 6-1 6-1
6-Adam Kellerman (AUS) bt Marshall Marsh 6-0 6-3
7-Takuya Miki (JPN) bt Ishmael Tshipuke 6-0 6-0
8-Frederic Cattaneo (FRA) bt Gaetan Menguy (FRA) 6-2 3-6 7-5
Leon Els bt Vuyisani Mantshula 6-2 6-0
Alfie Hewett (GBR) bt Alwande Skhosana 6-0 6-0
Boukartacha Lhaj (MAR) bt Benito Vuma 6-1 6-0
Daniel Rodrigues (BRA) bt Mayenzeke Gwija 6-0 6-0
Ricky Molier (NED) bt Ewald Lamprecht 6-1 6-0
Sean De Hilster bt Aobakwe Magotlo 6-1 6-0
Donald Ramphadi bt Gift Lekhanyane 6-1 6-4
Mzwanele Thentsi bt Xolelani Nyandeni 6-1 6-0
Thato Tsomole bt Similo Basi 7-6(4) 6-7(3) 7-5
Wheelchair Tennis South Africa and Airports Company South Africa Partnership:
The Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) is the official sponsor of Wheelchair Tennis South Africa and the sport of wheelchair tennis. Airports Company South Africa has contributed no less than R36-million to date and has committed to a continued investment in the sport as its flagship Corporate Social Investment programme.