Home Court Advantage Run Amok
This week in Johannesburg is the only time of year that an ATP tour-level event goes to South Africa. Accordingly, all the South Africans take part, the wild cards are generally awarded to South Africans, and a disproportionate number of entries in the qualifying draw are South Africans. And they performed unexpectedly well.
Thus, of the main draw of 32, 6 players were South Africans. They included 4th seed Kevin Anderson (ranked 59th), wild cards Fritz Wolmarans (261), Rik de Voest (183), and Izak van der Merwe (170), along with qualifiers Raven Klaasen (307) and Nikala Scholtz (662).
It isn’t uncommon to see someone ranked as low as Anderson win a 250-level tournament; for example, another local player, 84th-ranked Crotian Ivan Dodig took the title in Zagreb this week. But rarely do home favorites make such comprehensive work of a draw.
Anderson won the tournament–though he’s not all that pertinent to our theme, since he outranked every one of his opponents. All five other South Africans exceeded expectations.
The qualifiers, Klaasen and Scholtz, didn’t win a main draw match, neither would have been expected to come through qualifying. Scholtz had to beat Pierre-Ludovic Duclos and Thiago Alves, ranked 443rd and 178th, respectively. Klaasen had to get past Rajeev Ram, currently ranked 188th but ranked inside the top 80 only a year ago.
Of the wild cards, only Wolmarans failed to reach the quarters. He did win his first round match against Igor Sijsling, who outranks him by 130 places.
Rik de Voest defeated Stefano Galvani (ranked 321) and 8th seed Michal Przysiezny (81), one of his best ATP-level results. And van der Merwe made it to the semifinals, beating Stephane Robert, Dustin Brown, and Simon Greul, all players who have spent substantial time in the top 100.
It is tempting to wonder if some locations lend themselves to a greater home court advantage. South Africa, in particular, is one of the more far-flung spots on the ATP map.
But it would be foolish to draw any conclusions based on one tournament. After all, last year, South Africans won a grand total of two matches in the Johannesburg main draw. This results of this year’s event are at least partly due to an usually weak field: only the top four seeds were among the world’s top 65. Some challenger-level events may be similarly competitive.
In any event, this week’s results are certainly a boost for tennis in South Africa; maybe the draw will be stronger next year.