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Izak loses marathon qualifier

By Mark Etheridge

As the third tennis Grand Slam of the year looms large in the shape of Wimbledon on Monday, South African Izak van der Merwe has gone down in a heartbreaking qualifying match.

The Davis Cup player, 26, went down to American opponent Alex Kuznetsov in a marathon first round qualifer.

Van der Merwe, ranked 269th in the world, compared to the 172nd spot of his opponent, took the first set 6-3 and lost the second in a tiebreak 7-6 (5)

But then came the real struggle as the final set served up a staggering 26 games as Van der Merwe finally succumbed 12-14 to the 23-year-old.

There was better fortune for fellow South African Rik de Voest who went through to the third round of qualifying. This after Germany’s Dominik Meffert retired 6-4 1-1 into the match.

De Voest had more success, this time in the double category when he teamed up with another German, Mischua Zverev to account for the British combination of Joshua Milton and Alexander Ward 6-3- 6-2 in the men’s doubles qualifying.

Meanwhile, the career of 17-year-old South African prodigy Chanel Simmonds, who is widely considered the most promising tennis player produced in the country in more than a decade, is tottering at the crossroads.

Sapa reports that her coach, Earl Grainger, says the budding Kempton Park left-hander is faced with the choice of leaving the country or allowing her talent to stagnate into increasing oblivion.

“The problem,” according to Grainger, himself a one-time, respected ATP circuit participant, “is the lamentably blas├® attitude towards tennis in South Africa generally and, in this instance, the inexplicable disinterest of all and sundry to sponsor a talent the likes of which has not emerged in South Africa since the turn of the century.ÔÇØ

Grainger points out that Simmonds’ world ranking has improved dramatically this year from little better than the 1000-mark to a current 363rd; she beat a 77th-ranked player in the recent Soweto Open and there is a dire need for her to now “spread her wings” and undertake a comprehensive overseas tournament campaign to further enhance her progress in the only way possible – by competing against some of the best players in the world.

“The trouble,” said Grainger, “is that none of the prospective sponsors I have approached to launch such a campaign have shown the slightest interest in helping — and this includes numerous major companies and organisations who are always boasting about how they have the welfare of South African sport at heart.ÔÇØ

Grainger pointed out that South Africa’s Chani Scheepers, who hit the headlines by reaching the fourth round of the French Open and is now ranked 77th in the world, had recently revealed she was pondering over whether to settle permanently in the United States.

She is already based in Houston where former South African top-rated world doubles player, Lisel Huber, resides and is a member of the United States Fed Cup team.

“I don’t know what is going to happen to Chanel,” says Grainger. “It seems she will either have to follow a similar route and leave her family ties in South Africa behind – or end up as an exceptional talent that has sadly gone to waste.”