The opening round of the Soweto Open men’s and women’s tennis tournaments have not been kind to fancied players over the past two days, but on Tuesday women’s top seed Elena Baltacha of Great Britain gave notice that she’s a very likely winner.
Players are slugging it out for a collective $200 000 in prize-money on offer and on Monday, Sweden’s Filip Prpic had ousted number two Karol Beck of Slovakia, SA wild card Chanel Simmonds eliminated women’s third seed Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic and fellow wild card and compatriot Nikala Scholtz did the same to number eight Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands.
Tuesday it was the turn of men’s seeds numbers one and three to say goodbye to a sunny Soweto, as well as the women’s fourth seed.
By far the biggest upset was the toppling of men’s number one Lukas Lacko of Slovakia to the tune of 3-6 6-2 6-3 by lowly ranked world 211 Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium. And then third-seeded Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei went out 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-4 to France’s Nicolas Mahut.
In the women’s half of the draw there was a noted casualty in Great Britain’s Katie O’Brien following her 6-4 5-7 7-6 (5) demise at the hands of yet another member of Russia’s seemingly never-ending tennis production line, Nina Bratchikova. Top-seeded Baltacha cruised to a 6-2 6-2 victory over Russia’s Vitalia Diatchenko. Thailand’s second-seeded Tamarine Tanasugarn , a former world top 20 player, was also always in control during a 6-2 6-1 victory over local player Welma Luus.
SA’s most fancied player, Rik de Voest, gave fourth seed Harel Levy a great fight in the afternoon before succumbing 7-6 (4) 6-4 and now it’s down to SA Davis Cup singles player Izak van der Merwe and the rising star that is 19-year-old Scholtz to deliver a quarter-final berth to the home country.
Sadly for SA fans, the two big servers are meeting each other in the round of 16, scheduled for Wednesday.
More on Baltacha though — the Kiev, Ukraine-born daughter of a World Cup soccer player and Olympic pentathlete mother back in the days of the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) the eloquent 27-year-old world number 59 (and rising) moved to Ipswich in England at age six and then to Perth in Scotland for a decade shortly thereafter.
The Scottish accent attests to that country’s influence and possibly the hardiness that saw “Bally” persevere despite a series of debilitating back injuries and operations that almost caused her to give up the game in despair a couple of years ago. A karate coach, who still travels with her, turned tears into triumph and through his expertise, Baltacha is finally free of pain.