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Maripa and Sithole cruise through in Gauteng Open
- Updated: April 9, 2015
South Africa’s top wheelchair tennis aces Evans Maripa and Lucas Sithole cleared the first hurdle in the Airports Company South Africa Gauteng Open in Benoni on Tuesday.
Both South African Paralympians claimed straight set victories in the first round at the Gauteng East Tennis Centre, while defending men’s champion Stephane Houdet from France and 2014 Quad winner David Wagner from the United States also enjoyed success on the first day of the UNQLO International Wheelchair Tour event.
Maripa defeated compatriot Patrick Selepe 6-2 6-0 in the men’s singles, while Sithole beat Brazil’s Ymanitu Silva 7-5 6-1.
World No4 Sithole was made to work in the first set, but the South African controlled the second set and sent the Brazilian packing.
‘I was a little tight at the start, but I loosened up in the second set and found rhythm and pace,’ said the 2013 champion, who is targeting repeat success in Benoni. ‘I had some personal stuff going on and didn’t compete in as many international events last year. I slipped from second to fourth in rankings because I didn’t defend my points.
‘My aim this year is to get back up the rankings and the chase starts this week.’
Houdet, who is testing a new chair, dispatched Dutch player Ricky Molier 6-1 6-0 and was equally pleased to get his title defence off to a positive start. ‘I am happy that the new chair performed very well,’ said the top seed.
‘This chair has been years in a making. It is a carbon-fibre chair that allows me to stand on my knees and that puts me in a similar position to when I was playing able-bodied tennis.
‘I have a lot more movement. It is early, though, and it will be interesting to see how the chair and I hold up against the top seeds later this week.’
World number one Wagner only arrived in South Africa late on Tuesday, but showed no signs of jet lag as he romped to a 6-1 6-0 victory against Sebastian Jance from France in the quad singles.
Meanwhile former top SA juniors Mariska Venter and Thando Hlatshwayo (pictured above) celebrated successful debuts in the women’s singles. Hlatshwayo defeated Nomo-Afrika Gxumisa 6-1 6-0, while Venter won by the same margin against Tsholofele Sibanda.
Both rookies will face formidable opponents in the second round, but the prospect of battling two former champions did little to diminish their confidence.
Hlatshwayo will play 2013 champion and world No9 KG Montjane, while Venter goes head-to-head with top seed Sabine Ellerbrock from Germany, the winner in 2014.
‘We will probably both get beaten, but just don’t expect us to play like losers,’ Hlatshwayo said. ‘This is a great opportunity for Mariska and me to get experience against world class players. We are going to make the most of this chance.’
Venter held the number one spot in the World Junior Girls Ranking last year and is currently ranked 40th in the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Womens World Ranking.
‘This is a real chance to test ourselves and to gain experience,’ the 18-year-old Ermelo player said.
‘The matches will show our strengths, but also highlight our weaknesses. Thando and I will be competing internationally in May and I think it is really good to see what works doesn’t work well, so we can concentrate on these aspects before we leave.’
All the doubles matches had to be moved to Thursday morning after a heavy deluge forced organisers to suspend play at 2.45pm.
Play started at 9am on Thursday.
Picture of Hlatshwayo courtesy of Reg Caldecott