Wheelchair tennis team SA shines
29 May 2012
South Africa's wheelchair tennis team delivered a strong performance at the BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Seoul, South Korea last week, with the men's team winning promotion to the elite World Group I of the game, and Kgothatso Montjane going undefeated in the women's singles.
In the men's open competition, the South African team of Evans Maripa, Sydwell Mathonsi, Marshall Marsh and coach Gerald Stoffberg competed in the World Group II division. They began their challenge by competing against Greece and Canada in round robin play.
After a 3-0 victory over the Greeks, Maripa and Mathonsi scored singles' victories to give South Africa a win over the Canadians. That put South Africa into the playoffs for place one to four in the group.
Sri Lankan number one Upali Rajakaruna offered a stiff challenge to Maripa, who ultimately triumphed 7-6, 5-7, 6-0, but Mathonsi won easily against Dissanayake Gamini before Maripa and Mathonsi teamed up to secure a 3-0 win with victory in the doubles.
The win over the Sri Lankans put South Africa into its first final at the BNP World Team Cup where the opposition in the title-decider would be Thailand.
The Asians got off to a strong start when Suthi Khlongrua overwhelmed Mathonsi 6-4, 6-0, but the contest between Maripa and Suwithchai Merngprom was a real humdinger. After a tough battle, the Thai player squeezed out a 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 win to secure the title for Thailand.
Not only had South Africa captured the silver medal, but they had also won the right to face Belgium in a promotion/relegation tie for a place in World Group I, the highest level of competition in the game, which features the top 16 nations in the world.
Mathonsi put South Africa ahead when he dismantled Kristof Michils, romping to a 6-0, 6-1 victory, but the Belgians levelled the tie when their number one Joachim Gerard outplayed Maripa 6-3, 6-1.
That left the doubles clash to decide the tie. Once again, Maripa and Mathonsi were called on to deliver the sought-after victory. They did it, defeating Gerard and Roland Meersman 6-3, 6-3 to secure promotion for South Africa alongside Thailand.
It has been a remarkably swift climb to the elite group of wheelchair tennis playing nations for South Africa. The country finished 16th on its debut in the World Team Cup in 2005. Last year, the team made the semi-finals of World Group II for the first time. Now, South Africa is in World Group I!
The South African junior team of Gift Lekhanyane, Mabel Mankgele and Mariska Venter also shone. After a 3-0 defeat of Argentina and another 3-0 win over Israel, in a first, the team earned the right to contest the playoffs for the top four nations in the world, which also featured Great Britain, the Netherlands and the USA.
Although they went down to the British and the Dutch, they made sure of automatic entry into the event in 2013 by finishing in the top four. In 2011, they had finished seventh.
The green and gold Quads team of Lucas Sithole, Steven Kekai and Bongani Dlamini faced a very tough division in which few teams had players ranked outside the top 16 in the world.
Once more, the team achieved a best ever finish, placing sixth, which also gained it automatic entry into the 2013 event.
The women's team of Kgothatso Montjane, Celia du Toit and Rose van der Meer failed to match the depth of the other competing nations and placed twelfth in the open women's division.
However, Montjane, who is currently ranked ninth in the world, repeated her feat of 2011, by going undefeated in the singles.
She is in very good form at present and will bear watching at the Paralympics. Her recent results include a win over world number two Aniek van Koort.
'Pride, passion and commitment'
Wheelchair Tennis South Africa Director Holger Losch commented on the South African team's results: "It is always such an honour for the players to represent their country. Tennis, as an individual sport, has limited opportunities for the players to play for their country.
"You can see the difference," Losch said. "They play with more pride, passion and commitment, knowing they are not only playing for themselves, but for a team, and a country.
"The BNP World Team Cup is the premier event on the wheelchair tennis calendar, and it is fantastic to see that our team's hard work is paying off," Losch added.
"We are no longer viewed as a developing nation, but are becoming one of the top wheelchair tennis nations in the world."
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