Tunis, Tunisia – South African junior tennis claimed the under 16 boys singles crown at the African Junior Championships which ended in Tunisia this weekend. Second seed Richard Thongoana of Gauteng Central beat fellow South African Joshua Howard-Tripp the eighth seed of Gauteng East 6-3 6-0 in the final.
Despite the ISIS terror attack only 30km away from the tournament venue at the Museum in the Tunisian capital Tunis, the South African team were safe having top class security arranged by the International Tennis Federation. The team coaches managed their team well, focusing on the tennis and stayed between the tournament hotel and playing venue.
“We never split up as a team and our focus was on the tennis at all times. We did no sightseeing or did not go near shopping malls as a precaution” said South African coach Terrey Schweitzer.
South Africa were strongly challenged in the two week long tournament by hosts Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. It was a boost for local tennis that two South African players made the final of the under 16 boys singles especially significant being played at clay on low altitude. Also the weather conditions were not ideal and were “tricky” as it was exceptionally cold and windy.
It was the third time that Thongoana had qualified for the African Junior Championship finals but first time he captured the title. In the previous two tournaments, Thongoana won the warm-up events leading into the African Championships but then lost in both finals of the Championships. Ironically this year Thongoana was runner up in the warm-up tournament but won the coveted African Championship crown.
Finalist Howard-Tripp had a great tournament upsetting the number four and top seeds en route to the final. It was probably the experience of Thongoana having played three finals that gave him the advantage.
Thongoana then teamed up with Howard-Tripp to reach the doubles final. The fourth seeded South Africans narrowly lost to second seeded Moroccans, Ahmed Herres and Yassir Kilani 5-7 6-4 8-10.
In the girls under 16, Barnard twins Lee and Zani were disappointed to both bow out in the quarterfinals of the singles, both in three sets in windy conditions. Lee Barnard in her last eight match against fifth seed Lilya Hadab of Morocco had five match points but was unable to convert.
“We were hoping to get the Barnards into a top four spot for African Junior Championships point standings as well as to assist in winning the combined boys and girls under 16 trophy. This award then went to Egypt” said Schwietzer. Despite the loss, South Africa still have a good chance of qualifying for the Junior Fed Cup Final in September.
In the under 14 age-group, Lara van der Merwe of North West Province did exceptionally well getting to the singles semi-finals being a year younger in her respective age group. Joubert Klopper of Free State finished 6th overall being unseeded and beating the number six and seven seeds on the way. Klopper undoubtedly got the most mileage out of the tourney with 21 sets averaging 3 hours each.
Joubert Klopper then teamed up with Charl Morgan of Johannesburg to reach the final of the under 14 doubles.
Schweitzer said that on the whole, the tournament offered wonderful exposure to the South African players. “ For our players to be playing against top players in Africa and valuable time on red clay where hard work and value given to every point is of paramount importance. Their games have developed in terms of more explosive leg work and the use of more creativity that is necessary for clay court tactics, as well as being able to be equally good at building points, offense and defense.