Defending SA men’s champion JP Brits has thrown his support behind the innovative new format introduced by Squash SA to decide the 2020 Growthpoint SA Nationals champions.
The 29-year-old SA Country Districts star is relishing the prospect of defending his title when the Growthpoint SA Nationals are played on the all-glass court at the Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria from 15-17 October.
He won the national crown for the first time last year and will be joined as the reigning champion by women’s holder Milnay Louw.
First, however, Brits and Louw will have to go through the regional qualifying tournaments around the country, from which will emerge the top eight men and women to contest the final rounds in Pretoria.
He is enthusiastic at the prospect, feeling that the new format will give squash much wider exposure and provide an exciting opportunity for younger players to test themselves against their older rivals.
‘Previously we had fields of 16 [men and women] competing in the main tournament in one centre, but this will reach a much wider audience and give players a chance in regions around the country to qualify,’ said Brits, who represented South Africa at the World Championships in 2019.
‘I think it’s a great idea from Squash SA because it means players have a chance to compete in the event in their home towns.
‘Hopefully that will see a big jump in entries and it should encourage our juniors to take part and make the regional qualifiers very competitive.
‘I feel it’s appropriate to thank the regional organisers for taking on the task of staging these tournaments and allowing the top players to be showcased in the Growthpoint Nationals. I do hope Squash SA continues with this format.’
Like most South African children, Brits enjoyed playing a wide range of sports during his school career, but by the time he was 16 he knew he wanted to become a professional squash player.
‘I was actually playing a lot of tennis at one stage, but next to the courts where we played, there were squash courts,’ he recalled. ‘So often, if it rained, we would head for the squash courts and with the ball skills I had picked up, I took to it pretty quickly.’
His journey through the pro ranks involved a lot of hard work, but culminated in him winning the national title by beating Clinton Leeuw in the final in 2019.
‘That was one of the best achievements of my career and it’s an honour to defend the title,’ he said. ‘It’s any young player’s dream to win your national title and when I see the champions before me, I am very privileged to be in that group.’
Although highly motivated to retain his title, Brits said he would not put too much pressure on himself.
‘My objective is just to focus on my performance and make sure my preparation is good. If I can just go onto the court and focus on playing good squash, then the results will take care of themselves.’
The tournaments, which also have support from Dunlop and Tsogo Sun, will all be played according to the Covid-19 risk-mitigation strategy approved by the department of sport, arts and culture. Squash SA has worked closely with government to ensure the full compliance necessary to proceed.
Only the participating players, event staff and broadcast team will be allowed on-site in Brooklyn Mall. All participants will be screened prior to the start of each day. Security will ensure no gathering of crowds and safe social distancing. No spectators will be allowed at the tournaments, as well as no hospitality.
The eight regional qualifiers will be played from 8-11 October, with the men’s and women’s winners of each advancing to the main event.