By Mark Etheridge
in Brazzaville, Congo
It was a bountiful morning for badminton as Team South Africa’s African Games medal campaign gathered momentum here on Wednesday.
After the morning’s individual semi-finals were done it means that the final action of this code in the evening will dish up a guaranteed five medals.
This is after there were wins for the mixed doubles, men’s doubles and individual singles players.
Guaranteed gold and silver will come in the mixed doubles and singles while it’s either gold or silver in the men’s doubles. They already have doubles silver in the team event.
Jennifer Fry and Andries Malan overcame their Seychellois opponents Georgie Cupidon and Juliette Ah-Wan 21-14 21-18.
They will now meet team-mates Michelle Butler-Emmett and Wiaan Viljoen in the final. The South Africans overcame top-seeded Egyptians Abdelrchman Kashkal and Hadia Hosny to set up the all-SA final.
‘We’ve been playing nicely,’ said Pretoria’s Fry. ‘We also beat Nigeria in two sets and our one bad game came against Mauritius in the team events. At least we know where the medals are going to SA in our game.’
It will also be an all-SA match-up in the men’s singles. Twenty-four-year-old Jacob Maliekal, seeded second for this tournament, beat Nigeria’s Clement Krobakpto 21-14 21-13. ‘I beat him in two sets in the team event so it gave me a good mental edge. I also beat him to win gold at the last African Games in Maputo, Mozambique four years ago.’
Previously based in Malaysia, Maliekal has recently moved to southern China. ‘I’ve been there for about six weeks now and will probably be based there now for at least until the Olympics.’
The second semi-final saw Prakash Vijayanath up against tournament top seed Edwin Ekering.
Adopted at a young age, Ekering has lived in the Netherlands for much of his life but represents Uganda at these Games.
It was a crackerjack of a match with both sets of supporters egging their team on. Vijayanath took the first set 21-15 and the second set was a humdinger as the South African came from behind to take it 23-21.
The victory clearly meant the world (or in this case, the continent) to the South African as he dropped to his knees in delight after sealing the match.
‘This is the highest ranked player I’ve ever beaten,’ said the 20-year-old. ‘I think he’s around 100-105th in the world and I’m No171, so it was very unexpected.
‘I thought I could maybe do it but it was tough. I definitely thought it would go to three sets. I played him last year at the Zambia International but he beat me in two sets. The shuttle was very quick today but my net game was tidy and he kept having to lift it over me and put it out on many occasions.’
Like Maliekal, Vijayanath is also foreign-based. He’s been in Ireland ever since leaving matric. ‘I’ve only played Jacob once at senior level and he beat me but it should be a good final.
‘I must also thank my coach Irwansyah and former national coach Stewart Carson for helping me reach this stage in my career.’
The final match featuring South Africans in morning play was that between top seeded men’s doubles combo Viljoen and Malan. They won a most entertaining clash in straight sets, beating Nigeria’s Jinkan Ifraimibulus Ola Fagbeni in their semi to set up an evening final.