Johannesburg - With a recent winning sequence of 13 matches and two tournament victories behind him, South African Davis Cup stalwart Rik De Voest will be seeking his first Soweto Open title.
"I've reached the final of two of the previous three Soweto Open events before losing to France's Fabrice Santoro in 2009 and Izak van der Merwe in 2011, and seem to produce my best form at the Soweto venue," De Voest said on Sunday, on the eve of the R1m tournament starting on Monday at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex in Jabavu.
As an extra incentive for De Voest in the tournament, which boasts a winner's prize of approximately R100 000, is the 100 ATP points that could improve his world ranking by as much as 50 places. He is currently ranked 204th.
"I've been playing some of the best tennis of my career after recovering from a wrist injury last year that resulted in my world ranking dropping to 327th. My big ambition for 2013 is to better my career-best mark of 110."
Winning the ATP Challenger and Futures titles in the Canadian city of Rimouski, and Oklahoma City in the US, as well as gaining South Africa's only victory in the recent 3-1 Davis Cup defeat against Poland, augers well for his prospects.
Seeded seventh in the Soweto tournament behind top-seeded Lucas Lacko, De Voest begins his quest for a first Soweto Open title against relatively unknown German Richard Becker.
From a South African perspective, other first-round games of interest will be that between Davis Cup squad member Ruan Roelofse and the second-seeded Rajeev Ram, as well as the appearance of teenager Wayne Montgomery, who is rated eighth junior in the world and was given a wildcard into the tournament.
But it is De Voest, South Africa's second-ranked and most dependable Davis Cup player over the past decade, who will be carrying the country's main hopes of a home success.
His most serious opposition in Soweto will come from an assortment of international Davis Cup players, namely Slovakia's Lacko, America's Ram, Philipp Petzschner (Germany), Vasek Pospisal (Canada) and Thiago Alves (Brazil), in addition to the colourful Jamaican-born German resident, Dustin Brown, who won the Soweto Open in 2010.
Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula said the restoration of the Soweto Open, with a grant of R5m from the department, was a key factor in unearthing new talent and restoring South African tennis to the heights it enjoyed in the past.
The men's Soweto Open will be followed from May 6 with the women's version of the tournament, which will be staged under the aegis of the ITF and as part of the worldwide WTA circuit.