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Double delight for Izak

Big-serving Daniel King-Turner of New Zealand was outgunned 6-4 6-1 by an impressive Izak van der Merwe at the R1.5 million Soweto Open on Thursday as the local hope forced his way into the men’s singles semi-finals at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre.

But that wasn’t all — to crown a great day for the home country, wild cards Van der Merwe and compatriot Raven Klaasen then teamed up to demolish Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller and Alexander Peya of Austria 6-2 6-1 to claim a berth in Friday’s men’s doubles final.

Van der Merwe now comes up against Peya in the semi-final and will be out for revenge, having being beaten by him on two occasions.

In the other semi-final Dustin Brown of Jamaica won two matches in one day and earned the right to play tricky Swede Stephane Bohli.

However, Great Britain’s Elena Baltacha’s title dreams were dashed as the top seed bowed out 2-6 7-6 (2) 6-4 to inspired sixth seed Jarmila Groth of Australia in the last eight of the women’s singles.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Van der Merwe in a tight first set against an opponent with a massive yet erratic serve, which became increasingly problematic for the Kiwi as the SA Davis Cup player cranked up the pressure.

Crucially, though, the 1.96m South African who weighs in at a deceptive 88 kg broke King-Turner’s serve as early as the first game and proceeded to control the match from that point with an admirable composure.

“I got the break early, kept serving well and then when I got the break in the second set I think he got a bit down, but I never thought the match was over as I was serving second. Once I got that second break (in the fifth game of the second set) I felt more confident,” Van der Merwe, a wild card, said afterwards.

Having a few matches under his belt now, Van der Merwe is clearly growing in confidence. “I have been working on my fitness, my movement is better and passing shots like some that I made can change the game.”

Van der Merwe has only dropped his serve once, against fellow South African Ruan Roelofse in the first round. Indeed, the Kempton Park lad’s all-round game was exemplary and he looks in good enough shape to go all the way to Saturday’s showdown for the title.

Groth was ranked 54th in the world but an ankle injury at last year’s US Open and a spate of irritating illness, which has still not left her as she coughed profusely at the post-match press conference, have made the last six months or so most frustrating for such an all-action personality. That didn’t stop her bubbly sense of humour from bursting to the surface almost immediately.

An exciting player who moves beautifully, it was noticed that Groth was swatting a pesky bunch of bees away during the match. “You saw that I smashed them all,” she quipped, and as another gnat of some sort flew around her face she said, “But that’s the one I missed”, with a wit every bit as rapid-fire as her style of play.

With 29 countries (from Australia all the way down the alphabet to the Ukraine) represented in Soweto, the Slovakia-born Groth, who moved to Australia at age 15, would almost certainly win the most entertaining press-conference of the tournament award even if she doesn’t clinch the title.

Thailand’s second-seeded Tamarine Tanasugarn, a one-time world top 20 player went through to the semi-finals by default as Austria’s Patricia Mayr retired with a leg injury after trailing 4-0 in the first set.
She’ll now play Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella, who beat fifth-seeded Ukrainian Mariya Koryttseva 6-3 4-6 6-3 in the quarter-finals after earlier in the tournament accounting for 17 year-old South African prodigy Chanel Simmonds.