- Lizelle Muller primed to land women’s crown for the first time
Cape Town; The brother and sister combination of Dewald van Niekerk and Lizelle Muller have been installed as favourites for the titles when the Growthpoint SA Nationals squash championships take place in Cape Town next week.
South Africa’s premier individual tournament will be played out on the all-glass court, which will be placed at the V&A Waterfront, creating a spectacular setting for the country’s top senior and junior players to demonstrate their talents.
In addition to the main event, an U17 national section will be run simultaneously to decide SA’s best players in this category.
This festival of squash is being backed by the city of Cape Town and provides the perfect platform to showcase the region’s many attractions.
Squash SA president Kyle Potgieter said they were delighted to host the tournament at one of the country’s iconic venues.
“Squash SA is very excited at being able to showcase our top squash players in the seniors and U17s, for the first time, on the all-glass court erected at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town for the Growthpoint SA Nationals,” he said. “We sincerely thank Growthpoint Properties for their sponsorship.”
The 24-year-old Van Niekerk has not won the Growthpoint SA Nationals yet but has emerged as one of the country’s best players in recent years and will be particularly motivated by the chances of pulling off a family double.
He knows, however, that defending champion Christo Potgieter, seeded second, is lurking in the background and the experienced Joburg Squash player will not give up the title without a fight.
Indeed, the 34-year-old Potgieter, who won the title for the first time in Tshwane/Pretoria last year, laid down a marker in last month’s Growthpoint Interprovincial when he defeated Van Niekerk in their head-to-head clash.
After a series of debilitating injuries followings his 2020 triumph, Potgieter feels he is returning to his best form after some hard work in recent months.
“Over the last month, the preparation has gone well and I’ve done a lot of fitness, so hopefully I’m nearly back to where I was a year ago,” he said.
“The biggest challenge for me next week, I feel, is to stay in the zone. When you don’t play a lot of tournaments it is sometimes difficult to stay consistently focused, but that is what I will be aiming to achieve in Cape Town.”
He added that he had never won a tournament in Cape Town.
“For some reason it just hasn’t happened for me there, but hopefully it will be a different story next week.”
Both he and Dewald, though, will have to keep a wary eye on Van Niekerk’s elder brother Rudi, 33, who remains a serious contender for the title.
If it goes according to the seedings, the Van Niekerks are set for a sibling semifinal showdown which could be a highlight of the week.
In the women’s champs, the 37-year-old Muller heads the field in the absence of titleholder Alex Fuller and she has a burning desire to be crowned SA’s national champion for the first time.
“I have been in the final for the last two years and is not so nice coming out second,” said the competitive top seed.
“Winning this event is one of the things I would like to accomplish in my career before I get too old because this has been a dream for me ever since I realised I could compete in the Growthpoint SA Nationals.
“Looking at all the winners from the past and just knowing that you are the national champion, well, that’s a big thing for squash players in South Africa.”
Second seed Milnay Louw will be her chief contender for the crown, a player Muller comfortably defeated in the Growthpoint Interprovincial.
But the Northerns player will have worked hard at her game since then and it will take a supreme effort by Muller to quell her challenge, plus the other young contenders in the field.
Muller acknowledges that it might take a bit of time getting used to the all-glass court, but is excited about the opportunity it presents.
“We don’t play in these conditions at all, so that will be a factor, but I know it will be a pretty amazing scene at the V&A Waterfront,” she said.
“These are situations we only normally see in professional events on TV, so playing in this situation will be great exposure for the players and the game of squash.
“Hopefully we can use this opportunity to continue to grow the game and inspire more people to take up squash.”
The draws for Wednesday are:
Women: 1.30pm: 3-4-Alexa Pienaar (SACD) v 5-8-Jennifer Preece (Joburg Squash); 3.30pm: 3-4-Teagan Roux (Joburg Squash) v 5-8-Hayley Ward (EP); 4.30pm: 2-Milnay Louw (Northerns) v 5-8-Cheyna Wood (Joburg Squash); 6pm: 1-Lizelle Muller (SACD) v 5-8-Helena Coetzee (Northerns)
Men: 2pm: 3-4-Rudi van Niekerk (SACD) v 5-8-Matthew Boote (KZN); 3pm: 3-4-Ruan Olivier (Northerns) v 5-8-Tristan Worth (SACD); 5pm: 2-Christo Potgieter (Joburg Squash) v 5-8-Tristan Eysele (Midlands); 6.30pm: 1-Dewald van Niekerk (SACD) v 5-8-Jacques Duminy (WP)
SA Nationals U17
Girls: 9.30: 3-Elske Garbers v 6-Nicola Bentley; 10.30: 2-Awande Malinga (Northerns) v 7-Bianke Pienaar; 11.30: 1 Savannah Ingledew (Midlands) v 8-Anel Marais; 12.30: 4-Kelly Emslie (Border) v 5-Ashton Weir
Boys: 10am: 4-Connor Earl (Border) v 5-Joshua Deutschmann; 11am: 2-John Anderson v 7-Zunaid Lewis; 12.00: 1-Luhann Groenewald v 8-Matt Mason; 1pm: 3-Patrick Weir v 6-Seth Flisberg (WP).