29 August 2013
South Africa’s top two women tennis players met in the first round of the US Open on Wednesday, but the match carried very different significance for SA number one Chani Scheepers and number two Chanel Simmonds.
For Scheepers, it was an opportunity to get back on track after a season undermined by injury in which she has slipped to 85th in the world rankings. For Simmonds, ranked 165th in the world, it was about enjoying her first qualification for a Grand Slam event.
The 29-year-old Scheepers and the 21-year-old Simmonds had never previously met, but the result ultimately went with the world rankings, with Scheepers emerging a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 winner after an hour and 39 minutes.
‘A crunch match’
Afterwards, Scheepers said she was pleased to have come away with the win. “It was a big opening match. When I saw we had drawn each other I knew it was going to be a crunch match,” she said.
“Chanel is playing some great ball and got to the final of the Soweto Open on the hard courts, which she likes, so for me, it was a good win, especially coming back from a shaky and nervous start.
“Chanel is a great striker of the ball and has a great future ahead of her.”
Scheepers said Simmonds’ qualification for the US Open was also good news for South African tennis. “For far too long I have been the lone South African woman carrying the rainbow flag in the singles at the majors. I’m happy that Chanel has made this breakthrough, and I think it is great that Chanel and I could represent our country, not only in the major, but at the same time. I hope to see her in more majors.”
Simmonds said her experiences at the US Open had been positive and she was thrilled with her performances, especially in the qualifying rounds.
On winning her opening match against Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic, she said: “I played a very good match in the opening round of qualifying, a tight match where I won important points.
‘I felt confident’
“Going into my second round qualifier, I felt confident, and even though my opponent was carrying an injury, I was pleased with the way I played and won the match.”
After her 6-0, 6-2 defeat of Russia’s Nina Bratchikova, Simmonds faced Taylor Townsend. “I played what was probably the biggest ‘grind’ match of my life,” she reckoned of her 6-2 2-6 7-5 win.
“Playing an American in New York is never easy as you have to play the player and the crowd. I had to fight back from 1-4 down in the decider against Taylor to win and qualify, so that felt real good.”
‘I played so well’
Reflecting on her clash with Scheepers, Simmonds said she had started well and found it hard to believe that she had won the opening set 6-2 in less than 30 minutes. “I played so well in that opening set. The two very long games in the second set which I lost changed the momentum and gave Chani the confidence to split sets and run away as the winner.”
Scheepers will face former world number one and sixth-seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the second round.