From seasoned professionals to some of the country’s best young players, the Growthpoint SA Nationals squash tournament is set for a cracking finale in Pretoria from Thursday to Saturday (October 15 to 17).
A field of 16, eight women and eight men, will contest the showcase section of the event on the all-glass court at the Brooklyn Mall following the eight regional playoffs around the country at the weekend.
After the lengthy break caused by Covid-19, the sport announced its return in emphatic fashion as the Squash SA innovation to introduce regional qualifying events proved a huge success, with a total of 436 players competing at the different hubs over the weekend.
Now it comes down to the business end of the championships, with men’s defending champion JP Brits in line to target his second Nationals title.
But it wasn’t plain sailing for the top seed in the Northerns hub as he was made to work hard for his 3-1 victory over Andrew Martin in Sunday’s final.
Sadly women’s champion Milnay Louw had to withdraw from the qualifiers because of a back injury, which has installed Western Province winner Alex Fuller as one of the leading contenders for the title.
Fuller, with a world ranking of 35, comfortably beat Juanette le Roux in the WP final, but the men’s division in Cape Town saw a few interesting results, with top seed Gary Wheadon losing to No 4 Rudi Willemse in the semifinals.
Willemse, however, went down to third seed Mighael Lombard 3-1 in the final.
In the Joburg region, Rodney Durbach and Jacqui Ryder struck a blow for the older guard when they qualified for Pretoria, while, at the other end of the scale, Dewald van Niekerk and Danell Douglas confirmed their burgeoning talent by advancing to the last eight.
Van Niekerk’s win over Jimmy Schlebusch in the final crowned a remarkable weekend of success for the Port Elizabeth family, with his elder siblings, Rudi van Niekerk and Lizelle Muller, comfortably clinching the qualifying spots from the Eastern Province tournament.
The players to qualify for the Nationals main event are (regional hub in brackets):
Women: Lizelle Muller (EP), Hayley Ward (Free State), Jacqui Ryder (Joburg Squash), Samantha Herbert (KZN), Teagan Roux (Midlands), Farrah Sterne (Northerns), Danell Douglas (North West), Alex Fuller (WP).
Men: Rudi van Niekerk (EP), Ruan Olivier (Free State), Rodney Durbach (Joburg Squash), Matthew Boote (KZN), Christo Potgieter (Midlands), JP Brits (Northerns), Dewald van Niekerk (North West), Mighael Lombard (WP).
Meanwhile, title sponsors Growthpoint are excited about hosting another event in one of their shopping malls when the Nationals resume on Thursday in Pretoria.
The all-glass court has introduced a new dimension to the venues traditionally used by squash and the capacity to set it up in any suitable location outside of the normal centres has broadened the exposure of the sport and established the diversity of Growthpoint’s shopping malls.
“Squash really caught our attention through this ability to host events inside our shopping centres,” said Growthpoint head of marketing Nadine Kuzmanich.
“The mobile glass court, which has been setup in Brooklyn Mall [Pretoria] and the V&A Waterfront [Cape Town], has proven to be a great success in amplifying the profile of the sport and to introduce new people to squash.
“We also believe it provides value to our tenants and partners.”
She added that the camaraderie which existed in squash tied in with the Growthpoint brand.
“The squash community is often hailed for its ability to build lifelong relationships,” Kuzmanich said. “This is a value that we truly admire and aim to build ourselves.
“One of the events we support, the Growthpoint Interprovincial, is renowned as the best squash team event in the world and often attracts players from the top 20 in the world.”