Wheelchair stars hit town | SASCOC - SASCOC

Wheelchair stars hit town

ITF Wheelchair Tennis Assistant (Events/Projects) James Hamill-Reeves has announced that more of the 330 players from 44 nations that will contest the 27th edition of the Wheelchair Tennis World Team Cup (WTC), start arriving in Pretoria on Wednesday.

Just over 100 players from 19 countries have already been in the country since last week when they started out in the Wheelchair Tennis South African Open at Sun City.

The Wheelchair Tennis Team Cup, an ITF flagship wheelchair tennis event, runs from Sunday, 24 April to Sunday 1 May, on the hardcourts at the University of Pretoria.

Many of the players headed for South Africa’s executive capital city are seasoned journeymen and competing abroad in high altitude conditions hold no terrors for them. “With this being the 27th edition of the WTC, most of the teams and players are used to travelling and dealing with all sorts (of challenges),” said Hamill-Reeves. “The teams hold no fear with regards to chair or any other technical problems that might arise.”

The eight-day event, which gets under way on Easter Sunday, has been dubbed “Easter Time is Tennis TimeÔÇØ by the tournament publicists.

This will be the first time that the world championship team event will be staged on African soil, and South Africa’s sporting fraternity can take a bow for hosting yet another world first for the continent, just months after staging the FIFA World Cup 2010.

Jacaranda City, as Pretoria is popularly known, has already hosted many international events in the past, and the University of Pretoria’s modern sports complex includes 22 tennis courts.

The men’s defending champions, Sweden, will be led by coach Toni Gustavsson who was voted the International Wheelchair Tennis Association’s “Coach of the Year”. Their No 1, Stefan Olsson, will lead the charge on court and is ranked No 4 in the world presently.

The Netherlands are the defending women’s champions and their hopes rest heavily on the shoulders of the celebrated Ester Vergeer, a two-time Laureus award winner. The sports Oscar-winning Vergeer is the world No 1 and she continues to dominate female wheelchair tennis after an unbeaten streak spanning several years now.

Hamill-Reeves anticipates that the competition will be keener than ever because of the proposed change in format for qualifying next year. “The most defining factor of this year’s WTC is that from 2012 we are introducing a new format to the competition with the reduction of the Men’s World Groups 1 and 2 and the Women’s World Group from 16 to 12 teams each,” said Hamill-Reeves. “This will mean that if teams do not finish high enough they will have to participate in regional qualifications next year in order to try and qualify.

“This really is the big incentive and what we think will make the competition very strong this year. The men’s WG1 will be, we think, a three-horse race between defending champs Sweden, Netherlands and France. In men’s WG2, Japan have come with one top-10 and one top-20 player so they will be a strong favourite to get promotion to WG1.

“The Netherlands women’s team will be once again be strong favourites to retain their title that they have held for the last 11 years. The Quad draw is very strong this year with the US, GBR and ISR all leading contenders for the title. The Juniors once again will be very strong with the Dutch as favourites, as they have won the last three editions.”