DÉJÀ VU FOR WORLD’S BEST AT SA OPEN
Once the tournament draw is published, it’s down to the players to determine the course of the outcome. Hence reigning men’s and women’s world number ones – Stephane Houdet and Jiske Griffioen – will be forgiven for suffering a moment of déjà vu ahead of the SA Open finals at Ellis Park Tennis Stadium on Friday.
Houdet from France will face compatriot Nicolas Peifer for a second successive year, while Griffioen from the Netherlands goes toe-to-toe with Sabine Ellerbrock from Germany …again.
Off course, 12 months ago the outcome was a positive one for Griffioen, who defeated Ellerbrock in three sets, but Houdet missed out on a hat-trick when he was beaten in three sets by Peifer.
Last year, Houdet had only been in his new chair for two weeks.
This year, the Frenchman is at the top of the world rankings, at the top of his game and more than ready for the rematch with Peifer.
Hunting back-to-back victories on the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour after his Gauteng Open success in Benoni last week, Houdet was in commanding form in the early matches of the Super Series event, also sponsored by the Airports Company South Africa.
He defeated South Africa’s Evans Maripa in a clean sweep, beat Paul Stewart from Britain 6-1 6-0 and dispatched sixth seed Maikel Scheffers 6-4 6-2.
Then Houdet met a very determined Stefan Olsson in the semi-final.
“He surprised me, because he started really strong,” said Houdet, who had to fight back from 5-3 down to win the first set in a tie break 7-6 (6). “I was 5-1 up in the second, but Stefan levelled 6-all. I had three match points in the tie break, but he beat me 6-7 (6).
“The last couple of points in the tie break I started to play really aggressively to warn him what was coming in the third set. I was 2-1 down but I turned up the pressure and I kept it going to take the final set 6-3. Now I play Nicolas again and it gives us both a lot of pleasure.
“We are doubles partners, we both play for the French team in the World Cup and we are great friends. Nicolas is unpredictable and he is one of the strongest guys on the circuit. He can beat anyone and he can do anything with the ball. It’s going to be a fantastic contest.”
Peifer needed three sets to eliminate compatriot Frederic Cattaneo in the first round, but beat Yoshinobu Fujimoto from Japan in straight sets 6-1 6-0.
After disposing of eighth seed Adam Kellerman from Australia 6-0 6-4 in the quarter-finals, the defending champion survived another three-setter against world number four Joachim Gerard from Belgium to win 6-3 3-6 6-3.
Griffioen and Ellerbrock also needed three sets each to book a spot on centre court.
The Dutch world number one faced Jordanne Whiley from Britain and lost the first set 5-7, but she rallied to take the next two sets 6-0 6-2.
“I was struggling a little in the beginning of the match and faced 5-3 down and two set points, but I actually started to play better from that point on,” Griffioen said. “I fought back to 5-all and I kind of felt like I was back in the match, but then I played two sloppy games to lose the set.
“I didn’t let it get into my head and I started to put more pressure on her in the second set and it worked. It’s been a long two weeks, but this is what we are here for and I’m very happy to be in the final again. It will mean a lot to me to win on Saturday, because it’s difficult to defend a title.
“Last year I struggled in the semi-final and the final, but this year I’ve played at a much better level and hopefully I can do that for one more match.”
Ellerbrock defeated Dutch world number five Marjolein Buis in three sets. The world number six lost the first set to the 2013 champion 6-7 (6), but won the next two sets 6-2 6-3 to book her spot on centre-court against Griffioen.
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.