Seven South Africans in first round action at Soweto Open this week

2010-04-12 00:00

SEVEN South African men and women will be in first-round singles action on day one of the Soweto Open men’s and women’s tournaments that take place simultaneously at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre in the iconic township from today through to Saturday’s finals.

One of today’s interesting matches sees SA Davis Cup player Izak van der Merwe up against Ruan Roelofse on centre court. Originally a wild card, Van der Merwe was afforded direct entry into the $100 000 ATP Challenger event after former Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuettler of Germany was one of three players forced to make late withdrawals due to injuries.

The further loss of India’s talented Somdev Devvarman and promising former South African Matthew Ebden of Australia has weakened the field, but created opportunities for others.

And one of them is Roelofse. The 2010 Braaiketts KZN Open finalist was awarded a late wild card due to the withdrawals, but the fact that he is drawn to meet Van der Merwe today means South Africa is destined to witness at least one first-round casualty.

Braaiketts KZN Open champion over the past two years Raven Klaasen meets Raemon Sluiter of the Netherlands, and South Africa’s Pieter Calitz and Nikola Scholtz face Austria’s Alexander Peya and Dutchman Igor Sijsling respectively.

In the $100 000 ITF Women’s Circuit event, SA wild card Christi Potgieter is unlikely to find it easy against Russian Ksenia Lykina, and SA’s Chanel Simmonds will also be challenged in her clash with Czech Klara Zakopalova. SA’s Jessica Kahts meets Germany’s Scarlett Werner.

Pietermaritzburg’s Kelly Anderson has withdrawn due to a family bereavement.

The decision by sponsors, the City of Johannesburg and the SA Tennis Association, to host both events in the same week rather than over two separate weeks, as was done last year, means a feast of tennis over the next seven days, which can only attract more local interest.

Sata and the city have arranged shuttles from the tournament hotel, the Grayston Sandton, throughout each day of the event.

However, the jury is still out as to whether the wider public, and Gauteng tennis fans in particular, will make the effort to support what is a unique event at an impressive venue, named after, and established by, an iconic African American.

Soweto is an area so rich in South African history, and yet so new to the sport of tennis, as far as the average Sowetan sports fan is concerned.

Last year, the support was meagre — and a blow to the sponsors and Sata’s admirable efforts to take tennis to all South Africans.

Hopefully this year will be different, as the Soweto Open sponsors and organisers need encouragement if this brave venture is to have any sustainability.

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