February 24, 2024

Van Niekerk in the hunt for hat-trick of Growthpoint squash titles

An enthralling three days of competition is expected when South Africa’s defending champion, Dewald van Niekerk, goes all out to win a hat-trick of national titles at the Growthpoint SA National Squash Championships in Cape Town this week.

Van Niekerk and Eastern Province’s Hayley Ward have been installed as the top seeds, but they know they will be the targets of a hungry pack.

Barring one or two exceptions, South Africa’s best players will assemble at the V&A Waterfront from Thursday to Saturday (August 10 to 12) to lay down their challenge and slug it out on an all-glass court  to become the country’s national champions.

The 26-year-old Van Niekerk is familiar with the challenge he faces, and is chasing a hat-trick of titles, but he said this week that he was under no illusions about the task which lay ahead.

“For me, this is the biggest tournament you can win in the country and even though I’ve won it twice, there is always a lot of pressure and a bit of stress,” he said in a statement. 

“Every event I play I regard as a fresh challenge and really, I just take it one match at a time.

“I don’t think about the final result because that just adds to the stress, so I’m looking no further than my first match on Thursday.”

Still, his opponents, the first of whom is Jonty Matthys, will have their work cut out to stop a player who has dominated the South African scene over the last few years.

Adding to his aura will be the fact that he spent three months under the coaching guidance of former top English player Nick Matthew earlier this year and feels he has added fresh skills to his game.

“I played in four PSA tournaments during that period and trained with Nick, who spotted some things we could change in my game.

“His coaching and expertise have really changed my game and the way I think about it, especially my skill levels, so that was a very worthwhile exercise for me.”

With players such as 2020 champion Christo Potgieter, Ruan Olivier and Damian Groenewald in the draw, Van Niekerk will need to make sure he remains on top of his game to secure another title.

Former champion JP Brits is not available for the event after injuring a hamstring during the Growthpoint Interprovincial last month.

The women’s championship has a taste of a changing of the guard in SA squash in the absence of 2020 and 2022 champion Alex Fuller, who largely campaigns overseas nowadays, and 2021 holder Lizelle Muller, who did not enter the event this year.

Hayley Ward Pic: Reg Caldecott               Eastern Province’s Hayley Ward has emerged as the leader of a talented group of younger players, although 34-year-old Milnay Louw, champion from 2017 to 2019, is lurking as a dangerous presence in the draw. With her experience and skill, she can never be discounted.

Alexa Pienaar is seeded second and if there are no upsets in Thursday’s opening round, she should have a fascinating showdown with No 3 Teagan Roux on Friday.

Thursday’s order of play is:

Women:

12.00: 3-Teagan Roux (Joburg Squash) v 6-Helena Coetzee (Northerns)

12.30pm: 2-Alexa Pienaar (SA Country Districts) v 7-Shelomi Truter (SA Country Districts)

2pm: 4-Milnay Louw (Northerns) v 5-Keschia Scorgie (SA Country Districts)

2.30pm: 1-Hayley Ward (Eastern Province) v 8-Savannah Ingledew (KZN Midlands)

Men:

1pm: 3-Ruan Olivier (Northerns) v 6-Justin Gouweloos (KwaZulu-Natal)

1.30pm: 2-Christo Potgieter (Joburg Squash) v 7-Lawrence Kuhn (Free State)

3pm: 4-Damian Groenewald (Northerns) v 5-Rudi van Niekerk (SA Country Districts)

3.30pm: 1-Dewald van Niekerk (SA Country Districts) v 8-Jonty Matthys (South African Country Districts)

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