The race to secure their spots in the Growthpoint SA Nationals squash tournament begins in earnest this week for the country’s leading players when eight regional hub events take place to decide the qualifiers for Cape Town.
Following a highly successful Growthpoint Interprovincial in Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth last month, South Africa’s premier individual event will take place at the V&A Waterfront from October 20 to 23.
This weekend’s Growthpoint regional tournaments will decide the men’s and women’s qualifiers who will compete in the eight-player draws of the SA Nationals.
In addition, an U17 event will be part of the SA Nationals for the first time after qualifying events were held around the country during September.
Not surprisingly following their success at the Growthpoint Interprovincial, where they annexed both the men’s and women’s titles, players from SA Country Districts litter the draws for the regional events, headed by siblings Dewald van Niekerk and Lizelle Muller, who will contest the Northern Free State section.
Muller was the SA Nationals runner-up to Alex Fuller last year, but the Cape Town professional is now campaigning overseas, so will not be there to defend her title.
After her unbeaten run during the interprovincial, Muller has installed herself as a favourite for the title, but must first negotiate the draw in Welkom where the women’s second seed is her SACD teammate Shelomi Truter.
Rudi van Niekerk, also SACD and Dewald’s elder brother, will feature in the PE draw and will be the outright favourite to book his spot among the eight qualifiers.
EP No 1 Hayley Ward, an SA Nationals semifinalist last year, heads the women’s seedings, but could have an interesting tussle with No 2 Jacqui Ryder before the weekend is out.
Another pair of SACD players, Tristen Worth and Alexa Pienaar, are the top-ranked players in the North West tournament and it would be a surprise if they were not to advance to the field for Cape Town.
Defending SA Nationals men’s champion Christo Potgieter underlined his skills at the interprovincial when he beat Dewald van Niekerk in their head-to-head clash and tops the field for the Joburg Squash qualifier.
This region will host two women’s events as there is no tournament for the females in Durban, with Teagan Roux and Cheyna Wood heading the respective draws.
Ruan Olivier was runner-up to Potgieter last year and will be determined to book his place in Cape Town when he contests the Northerns tournament. His chief resistance should come from second seed Andrew Martin, while Helena Coetzee heads the women’s entry.
There should be a fascinating showdown in Cape Town when Western Province’s Jacques Duminy and Rodney Durbach enter the fray to qualify.
Durbach made it into last year’s top eight and remains a formidable opponent, but the younger Duminy has the weapons to test his vastly experienced rival.
The WP women’s draw will be played over a round-robin, with Milnay Louw outright favourite for the top position.
There will be two tournaments in KwaZulu-Natal – Durban and Maritzburg – with Matt Boote the top seed in the former event.
Tristan Eysele, who played No 1 for Midlands at the interprovincial, will be favoured in Maritzburg, while there should be a tough battle for the women’s spot between top seed Jennifer Preece and the talented young Savannah Ingledew.
The top two seeds for each Growthpoint regional tournaments are:
Northern Free State (Welkom): Men: 1 Dewald van Niekerk, 2 Tremayne McDonald; women: 1 Lizelle Muller, 2 Shelomi Truter
Joburg Squash (Johannesburg): Men: 1 Christo Potgieter, 2 Mako Ntuli; women: 1 Teagan Roux, 2 Awande Malinga; women (Kwaberg): 1 Cheyna Wood, 2 Panashe Sithole
Western Province (Cape Town): Men: 1 Jacques Duminy, 2 Rodney Durbach; women: 1 Milnay Louw, 2 Makgosi Peloakgosi
Northerns (Pretoria): Men: 1 Ruan Olivier, 2 Andrew Martin; women: 1 Helena Coetzee, 2 Kimberley McDonald
Eastern Province (Port Elizabeth): Men: 1 Rudi van Niekerk, 2 Warren Bower; women: 1 Hayley Ward, 2 Jacqui Ryder
North West (Potchefstroom): Men: 1 Tristen Worth, 2 Sipho Ncube; women: 1 Alexa Pienaar, 2 Cara Fourie
KwaZulu-Natal: Men: 1 Matt Boote, 2 Luke Bakke; no women’s event
Midlands (Maritzburg): Men: 1 Tristan Eysele, 2 Justin Gouweloos; women: 1 Jennifer Preece, 2 Savannah Ingledew