Three-time Paralympic gold-winnning wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda of Japan crushed South African hopes in a straight set victory over Evans Maripa in the second round of the Airports Company South Africa Gauteng Open, part of the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour, on a day when all the seeds dominated proceedings at the Gauteng East Tennis Centre in Benoni.
It will now be up to South Africa’s number one woman KG Montjane to fly the flag for South Africa after Maripa, the country’s number one men’s singles player, bowed out against the world number one 6-0 6-1. ÔÇ£Although the singles are over, I still have a chance in the doubles,ÔÇØ Maripa said. ÔÇ£I’m actually proud of how I played Shingo this morning. It’s always tough to stay calm and keep your nerve against a number one, but I think I did okay. I just need more experience playing at this level.ÔÇØ
Men’s first seed Kunieda said the 6-0 6-1 result did not accurately reflect just how tough an opponent Maripa proved to be. ÔÇ£I won 6-0 6-1 but that score doesn’t begin to show how well Evans really played,ÔÇØ the Japanese tennis ace said.┬á ÔÇ£I controlled the first set, but Evans changed his tactics in the second set. ÔÇ£He changed things up, played with the pace and really put me under pressure. I practiced against him in Australia and he is unpredictable. He has improved a lot and if he can raise his first serve percentage and cut down on unforced errors, Evans is going to be an incredibly good player.ÔÇØ
Also advancing to the third round of the men’s competition were: 2-Gustavo Fernandez (Arg), 3-Gordon Reid (GBR), 4-Michael Jeremiasz (Fra), 5-Nicolas Peifer (Fra), 6-Frederic Cattaneo (Fra), 7-Miki Takuya (Jpn) and 8-Yoshinobu Fujimoto (Jpn).
Montjane’s 2012 season was railroaded by injuries just before the London Paralympics, but the world No7 began a slow comeback in Australia in January. She hit her stride in the United States in March and is back to the kind of form that ensured her meteoric rise just over a year ago. The 27-year-old hardly broke a sweat as she got her title defence underway with a 6-0 6-0 victory over compatriot Siphokazi Fuma. ÔÇ£Normally these games are frustrating because we are used to playing fast paced, quick moving games at the top level, but the match gave me a chance to fine tune a few thingsÔÇØ Montjane said.
Moving as well as she did last year when she reached the semi-finals in the ACSA SA Open at Ellis Park, the Limpopo player said she will be chasing good results in both events. ÔÇ£There are a lot of world ranking points on the table,ÔÇØ she said. ÔÇ£Even if I don’t win, I need to get myself into the semi-finals or finals. The Gauteng Open is an ITF Grade 1 event and the SA Open is a Super Series tournament. It’s really very important to finish as high as possible to make the most of the rankings.ÔÇØ
Montjane said she is ready to take on seventh seed Rose Van Der Meer, who beat Monica Ngwenya 6-0 6-0, on Friday. ÔÇ£I’m ready to dial it up against the top seeds this week. I feel really ready to challenge. I had a couple of good weeks in the United States, but the next two weeks are really important to my career.ÔÇØ
World number three and first seed Jiske Griffioen agreed: ÔÇ£With two world ranking events back-to-back, you would be crazy not to come out to South Africa,ÔÇØ she said. ÔÇ£We all have to compete in the Super Series events to get world ranking points, so it’s fantastic that there is also a Grade 1 tournament that makes the trip worthwhile.ÔÇØ
The Dutch player celebrated her first visit to South Africa by disposing of Nomo-Afrika Gxumisa in straight sets 6-0 6-0. Griffioen, a three-time Paralympic medallist and a seven-time Grand Slam doubles champion, said she feels well-adjusted to the conditions and ready to go into battle against the seeded players. ÔÇ£I arrived here on Monday and I’ve had two days to get used to the ball flight and breathing at high altitude,ÔÇØ Griffioen said. ÔÇ£After this match, I feel well adjusted and ready to challenge. It’s nice to start a tournament with a win.ÔÇØ
Eighth seed top South African junior Mabel Mankgele also kept her title hopes alive when she beat Thsolofelo Sibanda 6-3 6-2 in the women’s singles. Mankgele will join Montjane, Griffioen, Van Der Meer, 2-Lucy Shuker (GBR), 4-Katharina Kruger (Ger), 5-Jordanne Whiley (GBR) and 6-Christine Schoenn (Fra) in the third round of the women’s singles.
Day three on Friday will see the quarter finals being played from 9am. Entrance is free.