Mixed emotions at SA Open
Johannesburg - It was a day of mixed emotions and success for the South Africans in the quarter-finals of the South African Open at Montecasino on Friday as Izak van der Merwe reached his first ATP semi-final and Kevin Anderson joined him after annihilating Slovakia's Karol Beck 6-3 6-1in only 58 minutes in the night session.
But, in contrast, long-time South African Davis Cup stalwart Rik De Voest suffered yet another heartbreaking, narrow defeat - a trademark of his career - while going down 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-1 to India's Somdev Devvarman after a 2hr 25min marathon of see-sawing, engrossing tennis.
The gangling, 6ft 5in Van der Merwe resorted to what cricketers have dubbed a "power play" session of big-hitting and ended up blasting Germany's Simon Greul off the court with his lethal serves in a comprehensive and morale-boosting 7-6 (5) 6-2 victory.
"Scaling a new level is certainly a boost for my future plans," said the 27 year-old, 170th-ranked Van der Merwe afterwards.
"So far I've beaten three players in this tournament who are all ranked higher than me and it is a good feeling to know I can cope with opponents at that level."
Although he has won Challenger tournaments and reached the finals of the Soweto Open last year, Van der Merwe rated his current achievement as a highlight of his career.
It was a different scenario for De Voest as he went down to Devvarman in a match that was strikingly similar to the one he lost in the Davis Cup World Group play-off at the Ellis Park Indoor Arena in 2009 against the same opponent.
Once again De Voest appeared on the brink of securing a notable victory only - as he explained it - "slipping up on a couple of key points and paying the penalty in the end of what was a pretty exhausting match."
His big chance came when he had a break point at 5-5 in the second set when a straight-set success appeared on the cards - only for the engaging, powerful-stroking Devvarman to serve a sizzling ace down the centre of the court for what turned out to be the turning point of an evenly-contested, engrossing encounter,
And finally De Voest lived up to a somewhat unenviable reputation as "The Nearly Nearly Man" as a consequence of coming within a whisker of achieving memorable deeds on the international circuit and then finding himself shaded in a photo-finish.
But both players shared the view after one of the most absorbing contests the Montecasino tournament has provided that they are remarkably well-matched and it is therefore something of a mystery that Devvarman is ranked 110th in the world and De Voest a somewhat distant 183rd, Van der Merwe and Devvarman now cross swords in Saturday' first semi-final in what should be another fascinating India-South Africa sporting duel following on the De Voest-Devvarman match and the Indian Summer of cricket contests between the two countries.
Top South African player Anderson, who as the fourth seed is the highest ranked player remaining in the tournament, faces France's "dark horse" sixth seed, Adrian Mannarino in the other semi-final and he indicated he expects a far more testing challenge than that provided by the frustrated, occasionally furious Beck.
"I know Mannarino's game pretty well," said Anderson after producing what he termed his best tennis of the tournament. "We've played three times and I've gained two three- set victories and lost once in three sets."
And confirming the Frenchman's mettle was the way the wily Mannarino disposed Frank Dancevic, the conquerer of defending champion Feliciano Lopez, by a 6- 6-2 margin in the remaining quarter-final.
Anderson, however, was equally impressive against Beck, who, to be true, was not the formidable player who almost a dozen years ago accounted for Wayne Ferreira in a Davis Cup tie at the Wanderers Cricket Stadium.
With Anderson alternating cannonball serves with scorching groundstrokes from the baseline almost at will, the Slovak's anger boiled over as he hit one ball so high towards the adjoining highway that one spectator in the much-improved attendance suggested "it could have been a satellite going into orbit." .