SUNBIRDS & BAOBABS CLAIM FIRST PLAYOFF WINS

Pretoria, South Africa - It was mission accomplished for the Mpumalanga Sunbirds after their victory over the Eastern Cape Aloes at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall guaranteed they will finish the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League in a higher position than last year.

Siphosethu Kilani of the Aloes challenged by Sanele Buthelezi of the Sunbirds during the 2018 Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League match between Sunbirds and Aloes at Rembrandt Hall,Pretoria on 10 June 2018.

Picture by: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix


Having finished in ninth spot in 2017, the Sunbirds were determined to earn their passage through to the seventh-place showdown with victory in the first of the playoff matches on Sunday. True to pre-match predictions, after these teams played to a 38-38 draw the last time they met, it was another tight affair.
They were level on 9-9 at the first break, but then it was the Aloes who edged ahead and held the lead for the majority of the match – albeit a slender one.
They were three goals up at half time and four ahead at the final break. But the fourth quarter was all about the Sunbirds as they clawed their way back into contention with more accurate passing and shooting, while their defence ensured there was a period of almost five minutes when the Aloes did not score at all. The experience and skill of the injured Aloes centre Athenkosi Mbengashe was sorely felt at that point as the Sunbirds surged ahead and eventually claim a 39-35 win.
“That last quarter was the pull-through for everybody,” said a relieved Sunbirds coach, Marlie Nel, afterwards. “We managed to capitalise on small mistakes the Aloes made – some missed catches, so I actually felt for them. But luckily my players could convert that and that helped a lot.
“My defence just kept on working and at the end it worked – getting the ball back to our shooters to get in. I know the Sunbirds are players that never stop fighting and the goal was to take this match. I think they went out to show everybody we aren’t a ninth-place team. We can finish higher,” added Nel.
Aloes coach Des Neville added: “It feels like déjà vu because that’s what happened in our first game against them. It just seems we can’t keep it together right until the end. We keep trying different strategies but we just don’t seem to be able to get that flow into the circle at this stage, which is frustrating because that’s how you score goals.”
As for the injury to Mbengashe, Neville added: “Athe was a big loss – her height for one thing. It’s nice to have a tall centre who can have a bigger, wider vision and get higher into the circle over good defences. She’s also very composed and very used to feeding our shooters, putting the ball into the right places.”
The Aloes, who finished in sixth spot last year will now play the Northern Cape Diamonds (who have yet to win a match) in a battle to avoid finishing in last place.
That’s after the Diamonds lost their first playoff match against the Limpopo Baobabs 71-40, with the Limpopo team notching up their highest total of the tournament so far.
The Baobabs, who finished seventh on the log, were always in control of the match, reaching half time 36-13 up and simply extending their lead from there.
Baobabs coach Jenne-lee Delport, who had taken the opportunity to give her bench players plenty of court time, said afterwards: “I was pleased with the overall performance. To me it was good and clean. Last night we made a lot of errors, bad passes, footwork and breaking the line. So last night, for the first time this tournament we had quite a hard chat and we spoke about the fact that you can’t be a champion on court if you’re not one off court. I think the players took that to heart and they came out on fire in the first quarter. We didn’t give them any glimpse of hope.”
The Baobabs will now play against the Sunbirds next weekend for seventh spot. The last time the teams met, the Baobabs won by just two goals so it should be an intriguing encounter.
“That’s going to be a tough one and very physical, especially in the goal circle. It would be great to win next weekend as we finished eighth last year, so we’d obviously like to improve on that,” said Delport.
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LLOYD HARRIS IN PARIS HOPING TO QUALIFY FOR ROLAND GARROS

Johannesburg, South Africa – Rising South African tennis star, Lloyd Harris, will be hoping to join fellow countrymen, Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen in the main draw of next week’s French Open in Paris.

South African tennis player, Lloyd Harris begins his French Open duty at Roland Garros this week.

Photo credit: Reg Caldecott


The 21-year-old Capetonian made the qualifying cut for the second Grand Slam of the year and today will play Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime in the opening round – in the last match on court 16.

The two have never played each other before.

Harris was expecting a challenge from the Canadian, “I have not played Felix before, but he is a really tough young player and I am looking forward to an exciting match today.”

Harris, ranked 213 this week on the ATP singles rankings, said he was very pleased to be playing in his first Grand Slam, since turning professional in 2015.

“This is what you work for, for your entire career. I am excited to compete against all the best players on the main stage.”

Harris said that he is feeling comfortable on the clay, “My preparation has been good so far on clay and the courts at Roland Garros are playing nicely. Having reached the quarter finals of the Challenger in Samarkand last week has given me confidence. Now it’s time for another big push.”

Harris has some experience of Roland Garros, having played at the venue in 2014, at the Junior French Open.

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INTERNATIONALS CLINCH INAGURAL SOUTH AFRICAN BEACH TENNIS INTERNATIONAL TITLES

Johannesburg, South Africa – The historic ITF (International Tennis Federation) Arnold Classic Beach Tennis Challenge ended in Sandton, Johannesburg on Sunday.

Dario Loconte and Pieter De Vries, both of Netherland, in action during the men’s finals of the ITF Arnold Classic Beach Tennis Challenge being played at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. Third seeds, Loconte and De Vries beat Brazilians, Guilherme Porto Carrero Coli and Ilias Sakkas, 6-2 0-6 6-2 in Sunday’s finals.

ITF Arnold Classic Beach Tennis Challenge champions, Ekaterina Lyzhnikova and Liudmila Nikoyan, both of Russia, with their winning cheque. Top seeds, Lyzhnikova and Nikoyan won the women’s doubles title at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg beating second seeds,
Caroline Renard and Vanessa Ridolfo, both of France, 6-3 6-4 in the final.

Photo credit: BLD Communications


Historic in the sense that it was the first ever international world ranking Beach Tennis event to be played in South Africa, and first ever Beach Tennis event to be staged as part of the Arnold Classic Sports Festival.

Tennis South Africa (TSA), who launched Beach Tennis in March this year, partnered with the Arnold Schwarzenegger initiative, the 2018 Arnold Classic Africa to phase the Beach Tennis event. A Beach Tennis court comprising of 90 tons of sand was constructed on Alice Lane in Sandton, alongside the Sandton Convention Centre.

The four day event attracted a top field of local and international players.

The men’s tournament was won by Dutch team Dario Loconte and Pieter De Vries. Loconte and De Vries, seeded three, beat fourth seeded Brazilians, Guilherme Porto Carrero Coli and Ilias Sakkas, 6-2 0-6 6-2 for the title.

The Dutch team upset top seeds, Kirill Lyzhnikova of Russia and Adil Medina of Morocco 6-3 7-6(6) in the semi-finals and fell to the ground with delight after clinching match point. De Vries said that it was a real highlight of his career as the important win would take him and his partner into the top 100 of the world rankings, “It’s the first time a Dutch team have won a tournament of this stature, so we are extremely proud of the title. This week was a good week for us and we both played well and used the wind to our advantage. Beating the top seeds in the semis gave us added confidence for the final and despite a second set lapse we were able to overcome our opponents and take the title.”

The women’s tournament was won by Russian top seeds, Ekaterina Lyzhnikova and Liudmila Nikoyan, who beat second seeds, Caroline Renard and Vanessa Ridolfo 6-3 6-4 in the final.

The Russians broke serve in the opening game of the match but were broken back by the Frenchwomen in the very next game. However, in the fifth game, the Russians found the second break and held-on to win the set 6-3. In the second set, the Russians broke serve early to lead 2-0. The Russians broke serve again in the fourth game to lead 3-1. Trailing 1-4, the Frenchwomen made a remarkable comeback to level the set at 4-4. Still, the comeback was cut short by Lyzhnikova and Nikoyan who held serve and then broke impressively in the tenth game without dropping a point to win the set 6-4 giving them the championship.

Nikoyan, who is ranked 28 in the world and the highest world ranked player at the tournament said she was delighted with the win, “Any title win is a good feeling and I am honoured to have won the first international title on offer in South Africa. It was a tricky final to play as the wind was strong and the French team were very competitive but my partner and I kept our game plan and nerve, and pulled it through.”

“My partner, Ekaterina, came to South Africa for the first time as a tourist last year and when she saw the Arnold Classic Beach Tennis Challenge on the calendar she encouraged me to travel with her to Johannesburg to play in the event. And how pleased I am that we came, it was a fabulous event, the setting was unique and the court was in excellent condition.”

Nikoyan had full praise for TSA in their launch of Beach Tennis in the country, “Four years ago, I retired from playing the pro circuit in regular tennis and took up Beach Tennis and have never looked back. It’s a really fun sport and with South Africa’s great weather conditions I am sure that the sport will grow in leaps and bounds and South Africa will become a force in world Beach Tennis.”

The Russian (Nikoyan), during her stay, held development and coaching clinics in Gauteng and said that she was impressed with the co-ordination of the junior and senior players, and felt that with more practise and tournament play, the talent could be a force to reckon with.

“I will definitely be back. I have loved my stay in South Africa and I hope the tournament next year will be bigger and better, has more courts and a larger international field. I for sure will promote the tournament on the world circuit.” concluded Nikoyan.

During the tournament prize giving, a specially commissioned cake was presented to the winners celebrating 10 years of ITF Beach Tennis.

The South African swing of the Beach Tennis Circuit moves indoors to Pococks Indoor Beach Centre in Randburg, Johannesburg on Tuesday, 22 May for back-to-back ITF events, the TSA Pococks Beach Tennis Challenge, followed by the TSA Beach Tennis Challenge.

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JAGUARS CONTINUE WINNING START TO TITLE DEFENCE

Johannesburg, South Africa - The Gauteng Jaguars stormed through the opening weekend of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League unbeaten and look as dominant as ever, pulling off a 51-43 win over the Southern Stings at Ellis Park Arena on Sunday.

Shannen Bartlett of the Stings challenged by Izette Griesel and Tshina Mdau of the Jaguars during the 2018 Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League match between the Jaguars and Stings at Ellis Park Arena, Johannesburg on 13 May 2018
Pictures by: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix


As predicted the much-anticipated showdown between the two sides started out as a closely fought clash. The teams were neck and neck in the first quarter, exchanging the lead on numerous occasions and reaching the first break with just one goal in it – the Stings leading 11-10 at that point.
The team from the Western Cape held onto that one-goal advantage heading into half time 26-25 up. That’s when a new game plan from the Jaguars kicked into gear and it showed on the scoreboard with the defending champions finishing a quarter ahead for the first time at the end of the third, on 37-34.
Four unanswered goals at the start of the fourth meant the Jaguars opened up that small gap significantly before the Stings could respond. It seemed there was no coming back from that, with the Jaguars increasing their advantage to eventually win it by eight goals.
“We changed our plan after halfway through. Our first game plan sucked,” admitted Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk after the game. “We tried something and it didn’t work and so we had to change it. The girls were quick to adapt and it worked well. It was quite a tough match so I’m pleased with the performance.”
Speaking about the 2017 champions’ confidence levels following a successful weekend, Van Dyk added: “It’s fantastic but that can also lead to becoming complacent and a bit too relaxed so we’ll definitely go back and analyse everything we’ve done and work on the areas that weren’t so great.”
Stings coach Annelie Lucas reckoned: “We couldn’t keep up our intensity. It was a very physical game so the girls just got beaten on the body, and the bodies got tired so they couldn’t keep up with it.”
Meanwhile, the North West Flames claimed their first win of the weekend. Last year’s runners-up bounced back from a loss to the Stings on Saturday, with a 61-39 victory over the Limpopo Baobabs. Having struggled on Saturday, young goal shooter Claudia van der Berg had a much better time of it, slotting in some great goals in the first quarter which meant her side led 17-11 at the break.
Quarters two and three were good ones for the Baobabs, and while they trailed throughout, they never let the Flames run away with it. There was a two-goal difference in the second and four in the third, but it was the final period that let them down. That’s when the Flames asserted their dominance to open up their lead and win with ease.
“That was much better,” said a relieved Flames coach, Elsje Jordaan, afterwards, explaining her key wing attack Kgomotso Itlhabanyeng had recovered enough from flu to make a big difference. “I think the rhythm overall was much better on attack.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play all 12 throughout the weekend which is good for a squad, getting those youngsters out. For some of them it’s the first time playing on a sprung floor so it’s all about exposure and building. I’m more happy than last night, definitely.”
Baobabs coach Jenny-Lee Delport said: “Yesterday I kept a lot of players on court and then made the big change at half time and that didn’t work, so this time I tried to change more often but that didn’t work either, so there’s a lot of work to do on when to make the changes to see which players are ready when.
“Other than that, the play looked good. It was fun to see my players play so well against ex-Protea players like Vanes-Mari du Toit and one of the Protea coaches [Jordaan]. I think the players realised for the first time in a while that they can actually do this. We’ve got the ability, we just need to work on the fitness.”
In the final game of the opening round, the Eastern Cape Aloes slumped to their second loss of the weekend, while the Gauteng Fireballs claimed their second victory. The Fireballs, who finished in third spot last year under coach Jordaan’s guidance, dominated from start to finish to eventually take it 53-28.
“I think the difference for us was playing the ball instead of playing the man and losing focus,” said Fireballs coach Dorette Badenhorst. “The Aloes are a very physical team and you need to make sure that you work from them. They’re a difficult team to play, but I think our shots were good. Talja [Venter] played really well. Her goal average was very high so that was the difference.”
Badenhorst believes there’s still plenty of room for improvement however. “It was a good weekend for us. It’s always important to beat these teams because at the end of the day you want to qualify, but it wasn’t a great performance. Some of the quarters we really played well in both of our games but we struggled with certain combinations and we still need to keep possession. We are turning a lot of balls so I’m happy on defence but there are a few things we still need to change.”
Aloes coach Des Neville said: “We were hoping our players would have settled after yesterday’s game and some of the combinations did come through quite strongly today.
“We tried a few new things and some of those did pay off but it’s just a matter of trying to keep that going for the whole game. We’ve got pockets of brilliance, but too many lulls and too many lows so if we can sort that out, I think we’ll go forward from here.”
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SLICK-LOOKING STINGS OFF TO WINNING START

Johannesburg, South Africa- The Southern Stings produced one of the finest defensive efforts of the opening weekend of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League to defeat last year’s runners up, the North West Flames, 53-37 at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg this afternoon.

Claudia Van Den Berg of the Flames (l) challenged by Stephanie Brandt of the Stings during the 2018 Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League match between the Stings and Flames at Ellis Park Arena, Johannesburg on 12 May 2018.

Photo Credit : Gavin Barker at Backpage Media


After a series of fairly large winning margins in matches earlier in the day and on the opening night on Friday, it seemed this might be the match that might deliver the tightest contest of the day. That certainly proved to be the case in the opening quarter as the teams swapped the lead and reached the break just one goal apart – 11-10 in the Stings’ favour. It was still fairly even as the teams went to half time four goals apart on 27-23 to the team from the Western Cape.
But that’s as close as it got in the end, with the Flames struggling in the circle and squandering numerous scoring opportunities, while the Stings impressed on both defence and their basic skills. It was a slick team performance all-round and saw the Stings surging ahead to win it by 16 goals at the final whistle.
“We did expect a closer game. We know the type of players they have and we know that Elsje [Jordaan] in a very good coach,” admitted Stings coach Annelie Lucas afterwards.
“At the beginning of the game we were too loose so we played into their hands, but when we tightened up the game, eventually it went out way. Our defence was on par tonight. They were sharp and I know Helene [Steyn] got the player of the match, but I think Stephanie Brandt, our keeper, also really outdid herself. Her timing was on and she just turned the ball for us there. If you have tight defence, then it’s easy.”
Flames coach Jordaan explained that an injury to their number one shooter had caused the team’s scoring woes. “Our attack is a brand new combination and it showed, and obviously if you don’t convert, you can’t win. I’m not happy with the shooting effort at all. But I’m quite happy that now we know what we need to work on. And we’ll be back hopefully.”
In the final match of the day, the Mpumalanga Sunbirds sank to their second defeat in as many days with a 44-25 loss to the Gauteng Fireballs. It was always going to be a tough task for the team that finished second last in 2017, coming up against the third-placed Gauteng side, and they struggled to match the skill from the better-drilled team.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the Gauteng Jaguars could not have sounded a louder warning to their challengers as they got the defence of their Brutal Fruit Premier Netball League title off to a successful start.
They may have been taking on the team that finished bottom of the pile last year, the Northern Cape Diamonds, but they still looked in sensational form as they powered to an 81-12 win.
The team from the Northern Cape simply battled to match the pace at which the defending champions were operating. They reached the half time break 30 goals behind and it got worse from there as some strong defence from the Jaguars meant the Diamonds could score only twice in the third quarter and once in the final 15 minutes.
“We set some goals for the match so I did expect them to perform even if it was a weaker match,” explained Jaguars coach Jenny van Dyk. “We are very confident of defending the title. We wouldn’t just come here to take a second or third place. We want to win this and that’s what we’re working towards,” she added.
In other action, the Limpopo Baobabs sprung a surprise by surging to a 15-12 lead after their first quarter against three-time champions, the Free State Crinums.
The Crinums came back in the second to level matters at 16-all, but the Baobabs were still very much in it by half-time, heading into the break with the Free Staters 30-27 ahead. It was the third quarter that really lost it for the Limpopo team, however, as they could only manage eight goals to the Crinums’ 22. And despite a tight final quarter, the damage had been done, with the Free State side winning it 68-46.
Earlier in the day, the Kingdom Stars notched up their second win of the opening weekend’s action with a 54-30 victory over the Eastern Cape Aloes.
Having played their opener on Friday night, it was clear from the start that the KZN side already had a game under their belts, with much slicker passing and effective teamwork than their opponents from the Eastern Cape.
“I’ll never put away the Aloes. We did it last year where we were up the first quarter and then the Aloes took the game, so we never allowed them to actually come back at us,” said Kingdom Stars coach Madri Maritz afterwards. “We tried to build every single quarter, stay calm, play our game and just keep on going.”
This year’s Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League was officially opened with a special ceremony on Saturday afternoon attended by South Africa’s Minister of Sport Tokozile Xasa, President of Netball South Africa Cecilia Molokwane, MMC Community Development for the City of Jo’burg – Nonhlanhla Sifumba and other netball dignitaries.
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