Pretoria; Tshwane; Top seeds JP Brits and Alex Fuller are preparing for three days of super-charged squash when the Growthpoint SA Nationals tournament is contested at the Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, starting on Thursday.
Following the regional qualifiers played last weekend, the eight best women and men in the country will clash on the all-glass court for the honour on being crowned South African’s champion players.
Brits, who overcame an injury in the build-up to the regionals to qualify through the Northerns hub, and Western Province winner Fuller have been installed as the favourites.
But both players know that a field which oozes with class will ensure there is no easy passage to the finals, which will be contested on Saturday afternoon.
Brits will be chasing his second straight title and said he was excited at the challenge.
“There is no doubt that you will have to be sharp from the start because there are no easy matches in this final section of the tournament,” the SACD player said.
“But I had good week of rehab after that injury scare and came through the Northerns qualifier nicely, so I am looking forward to the opportunity of defending my title.”
His main opposition will come from Joburg Squash colleague Christo Potgieter, who is the second seed.
But no players will be looking further than the next match as a mix of the country’s seasoned campaigners and several young contenders prepare for the final showdown.
Cape Town’s Fuller will be chasing her third title overall after winning in 2015 and 2018, but will need to be on guard against the trio in her half of the draw.
She opens against former professional Farrah Sterne, national champion in 2008 and 2010, while the other match will feature two of the country’s most promising young players in Danell Douglas and Hayley Ward.
Ranked 35 in the world, Fuller said she would definitely be taking it one step at a time.
“I am looking forward to this chance, but I have not seen a lot of the players in the draw, so don’t quite know what to expect,” said Fuller, who has spent most of the past five years playing overseas.
“I felt good at the weekend in the qualifiers, but my priority going into Thursday will be just to focus on my game and to produce the best squash I can.”
Second seed Lizelle Muller said she was a combination of nerves and excitement as she looked ahead to a tournament in which she was runner-up last year.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity, but also a bit nervous because of the inactivity caused by Covid-19 this year,” she said.
“I know it will be extremely difficult because Alex is an awesome player, but I am definitely going all out to land the title, having missed out last year.
“There were a lot of nerves on that occasion and I want to do well this time because, at the age of 36 with a young family, my days of playing at this level are drawing to a close.”
As the senior member of the Van Niekerk family trio at the event, Muller is delighted that her brothers, Rudi and Dewald, will also be playing.
“It’s pretty cool to have them at the same tournament and we are excited about being there together,” she said.
The semifinals will be played from 4pm on Friday, with the finals on Saturday scheduled for 3pm (women) and 4pm (men).
The draw and Thursday’s order of is as follows
1pm: Alex Fuller (WP, 1) v Farrah Sterne (Northerns, 5-8); 2.45pm: Danell Douglas (SACD) v Hayley Ward (EP); 4.30pm: Samantha Herbert (KZN) v Teagan Roux (Joburg Squash); 6pm: Lizelle Muller (SACD, 2) v Jacqui Ryder (EP, 5-8)
1.45pm: JP Brits (SACD, 1) v Matthew Boote (KZN); 3.30pm: Mighael Lombard (WP, 3-4) v Ruan Olivier (Northerns); 5.15pm: Rodney Durbach (WP) v Dewald van Niekerk (SACD); 6.45pm: Christo Potgieter (Joburg Squash, 2) v Rudi van Niekerk (SACD)