Davis Cup play-offs beckon SA

2009-05-10 00:00

SOUTH Africa needed two days to secure their BNP Paribas Euro-Africa Group 1 Davis Cup tie against Belarus at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Complex and wrapped it up with two more victories yesterday to win 5-0 overall.

Raven Klaasen, playing in the reverse singles in place of SA number one Rik de Voest in this dead rubber, needed an hour and 10 minutes to beat Siarhei Betau 6-1 6-4, while SA number two Izak van der Merwe cruised past his Belarus counterpart Andre Karatchenia 6-1 6-3.

In the case of dead rubbers, the matches are reduced from best-of-five sets to best of three.

What turned out to be the deciding match on Saturday saw Belarus put their faith in veteran grand slam doubles winner Max Mirnyi and the inexperienced Betau.

However, the seasoned duo of De Voest and Jeff Coetzee were too consistent for Belarus, winning 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7/5) in two hours, 15 minutes.

With South Africa’s victory comes an opportunity to participate in the World Group play-offs in September 18 to 20 and the chance to return to the top rung of men’s team tennis. The last time SA were there was 11 years ago and this achievement, their 10th Davis Cup tie victory in succession, represents a major triumph for non-playing captain John-Laffnie de Jager’s team.

The challenge in four months’ time is both significant and daunting.

The World Group play-offs draw takes place tomorrow at the Davis Cup headquarters in London and it won’t be easy for SA to go through to the “premier league” of men’s team tennis.

SA could be drawn to play one of eight countries who lost in the first round of this year’s Davis Cup World Group — France, Serbia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Chile, Sweden, Austria or Romania.

If SA draw one of the first five countries they could play either at home or away, as neither country has met the other in the Davis Cup. Sweden would be at home for SA while Romania or Austria would be away.

But as a buoyant De Jager said, if it were a home tie he would be happy, whomever SA were to face.

Any away tie would likely be on clay, and that would not suit SA.

As far as the SA/Belarus tie was concerned, tournament referee Stephane Apostolou of France said he was impressed with the organisation and facilities, and philosophical about the poor crowd attendance.

“The crowd was disappointing, but the efforts of the SA Tennis Association [Sata] to take the sport into Soweto must be praised,” Apostolou said. “This sort of thing takes time and you have to start somewhere.”

However, even given a limited budget this tie could have been marketed better by Sata. The lack of interest serves as a timeous wake-up call, though, should SA be hosting the World Group play-off at home in four months’ time.

RESULTS: Friday — singles: Izak van der Merwe (Rsa) bt Uladzimir Ignatik (Bel) 6-4 4-3 ret; Rik De Voest (Rsa) bt Andrei Karatchenia (Bel) 6-1 6-4 6-1.

Saturday — doubles: Jeff Coetzee/De Voest (Rsa) bt Max Mirnyi/Siarhei Betau (Bel) 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7/5).

Sunday- singles: Raven Klaasen (Rsa) bt Siarhei Betau (Bel) 6-1 6-4; Izak van der Merwe (Rsa) bt Andre Karatchenia (Bel) 6-1 6-3.

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