ATP Tour

Teen carries SA hopes at Challenger event in Potchefstroom

Kholo Montsi (Photo credit: Reg Caldecott)
Kholo Montsi (Photo credit: Reg Caldecott)

It is something of a contrast, if not a contradiction, that a subsidiary ATP Challenger tournament returns to South Africa for the first time in six years at an unlikely Potchefstroom on Tuesday while six such events have been postponed worldwide because of the coronavirus.

But, perhaps in keeping with the unlikely venue, drawcards of note, if not some absorbing tennis, will largely be absent in what is the lowest tier on the international Challenger circuit, with only 50 ranking points and a comparatively modest R70 000 for the winner and overall prize money of US$35 000 dollars in the offing.

Let's be frank. How many South African tennis enthusiasts - let alone all South Africans - are familiar with 236th, world-ranked top-seeded, Benjamin Bonzi, despite the 23-year-old Frenchman impressively winning the even lower status ITF tournament at the same Potchefstroom venue last week?

The only South Africans in the 32-man main singles draw are the handful who have received wildcard entries or those who worked their way via the qualifying segment.

No Lloyd Harris nor Kevin Anderson, who are injured. But you could have bet your bottom dollar they would not have been in Potchefstroom even if they were as fit as fiddles.

And herein the main interest might centre round burgeoning, 17-year-old South African prospect, Kholo Montsi, who is one of the wildcards and has already been drafted for experience into the South African ATP Cup combination and Davis Cup teams as a standby.

Numerous talented teenagers have recently made a striking impact at the top level of international tennis, but it remains to be seen if Montsi can emerge good enough to rank with the young Turks of note.

And in this respect, Montsi finds himself in something of the deep end in the Potchefstroom Open having been drawn to play fifth seeded Russian, Evgeny Karlovskiy, in the first round.

Karlovskiy is ranked 249th in the world and what a coup it would be for Montsi, ranked in the 1 500s in the world, if he could upset the sturdy Russian, who is also eight years his senior.

Another player who will draw attention in Potchefstroom is the 36-year-old, fourth-seeded German veteran of Jamaican origin, Dustin Brown, who is currently ranked in the 240s, but at his peak rose to a 64th position.

Brown has not only been a regular visitor to South Africa in recent times, despite the dearth of international tournaments here, but he has also forged a reputation of some note as an entertainer on the court.

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