Fuller and Wood capture Tswalu women’s doubles title, while men’s champs dethroned
Johannesburg, South Africa: Defending champions Christo Potgieter and Cheyna Wood fought off a courageous comeback from JP Brits and Alex Fuller to retain their mixed doubles title in the Tswalu South African National Doubles Squash Championships in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Playing at Country Club Johannesburg, the holders won 2-1 in a thrilling finish to make it a hat-trick of titles at the national tournament.
In the women’s final, Fuller and Wood escaped in a tight second game to be crowned champions against the Gqeberha pair of Hayley Ward and Lizelle Muller.
The men’s title went to the young pairing of Tristen Worth (20) and Damian Groenewald (19), who produced fearless squash when it mattered most in the deciding game to defeat champions Brits and Potgieter 2-1.
Brits and Fuller, who won the St Francis Doubles Invitational last weekend, showed their effectiveness as a combination in the mixed final when they raced through the first game 11-5 and it looked gloomy for the defending champs.
But Potgieter and Wood have loads of experience and they drew on that to quickly run up a 6-2 lead in the second game, with Wood playing some exquisite shots into the front forearm corner.
Despite rallying in the second half of the game, Brits and Fuller could not bridge the gap and the match went into the deciding third game.
Again, Wood and Potgieter took control, forcing errors out of their opponents with tight shots and winning nicks. At 9-5 they seemed to have it sewn up, only for Brits and Fuller to show great determination to come back to within a point
But then uncharacteristically Fuller put two shots into the tin as the champs got home 11-8.
The women’s final centred around a tight second game after Fuller and Wood won the first 11-8.
Ward and Muller set the pace and led 6-3 at one stage in the second but there was nothing to choose between the two teams. The eventual champs forced their way back to 10-8 but a great effort by the Gqeberha girls saw them level at 10-10, only to concede the match when a let call was disallowed on the sudden-death point.
Fuller said it was a massive honour to take the Tswalu doubles title. “To win any national title is always special and it was amazing to win this one with Cheyna,” the world’s 25th-ranked player said. “We have a good understanding of what to do on court and we just make sure that we trust each other and that’s why it works.”
Wood, who won the title last year with Muller, was happy that the profile of squash doubles is being raised in the country. “I think doubles is under-rated because it’s very competitive internationally,” she said. “And we have proven that we can do well overseas. “The competition in South Africa is getting stronger every year and we need to build on that so we can compete internationally.”
She also appreciated the opposition they faced from Muller and Ward. “Alex is based overseas so we don’t often play together and today our opponents are part of the national team, brilliant players with a huge will to win, so we are happy to come through in the end.”
Worth and Groenewald were runners-up a year ago but this time they seized the moment with both hands in the deciding game of the men’s final
Prepared to go for their shots, they ran up a commanding 9-3 cushion, but soon realised that their senior rivals were not going down without a fight.
As the pressure built and some frantic rallies ensued, Potgieter and Brits won four points in a row, closing to 9-7, before Worth produced two outstanding winners to finish the contest and to take the prestigious Tswalu doubles title for the first time.
Afterwards they were delighted to have beaten two players who have become synonymous with excellence in South African squash. “It was unbelievable as we got closer to the title and it was difficult to keep the emotions under control, but it was an amazing feeling to win for the first time,” Groenewald said. “As you grow up with them in squash you eventually end up playing them and it’s special to beat someone you have seen as heroes. But they will always be our idols.”
Worth said it was a case of trying to keep the pressure on their experienced rivals. “From the start we were focused on not giving them easy points, trying to make it tough for them and to force them to the back to give us some attacking opportunities.”
Players of the Tournament awards went to:
Men: Daryn Pieters and Mick Gouweloos
Women: Lara Patrick and Megan Shannon