Macedonia wary of South Africans

2009-03-02 00:00

MACEDONIA’S Davis Cup tennis captain Vladimir Andonov says his team are nervous about playing South Africa.

“We are not happy playing so high above sea level, but what can we do?” Antonov said in a conference call from the south-east European country’s capital, Skopje, where the team have been training for 10 days.

SA and Macedonia gather this weekend for the vital Euro-Africa Davis Cup Group one tie from Friday to Sunday at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg.

“We are hoping soft balls will be used to slow the speed down,” Antonov said. “The superior world rankings of the SA players also scares us, but Davis Cup is Davis Cup.”

Antonov said Macedonia, which is north of Greece and west of Bulgaria, has 18 tennis clubs and the remarkable fact is that while they have nobody of note in their team, they have managed to survive in Group one for the last two years.

Their players’ world rankings are far below SA’s, yet they have raised their game in Davis Cup ties. What is the secret behind them beating players ranked above them?

“We are a poor country of two million people [to SA’s estimated 45 million] but the players are honoured to represent their country, passionate, and that makes for the success we have had,” Antonov said.

Antonov said Macedonia have their strongest possible team for the Emperors Palace showdown. “Because of the winter in Macedonia we have only been able to train indoors, on clay courts. We generally play on clay courts and we know SA like hard courts. It’s a sore point for us.”

However, none of the players have met in a match before, which adds to the unknown factor that can result in upsets.

Macedonia achieved independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and first played Davis Cup four years later.

If SA beat Macedonia they are two wins away from the Rolls Royce of Davis Cup — the World Group that includes the U.S. and Spain.

Should SA beat Macedonia, they will meet Belarus in the first-round play-off of Euro-Africa Group one from May 10 to 12 at an SA venue still to be determined.

And should they beat Belarus, SA will meet the first-round losers of the World Group on September 18 to 20.

Unless SA play extremely badly, the Macedonia tie should be easy for the host country.

TEAMS (World ranking in brackets):

SA: Rik de Voest (171), Izak van der Merwe (284), Raven Klaasen (329), doubles specialist Jeff Coetzee (doubles ranking 14).

Macedonia (possible): Predrag Rusevski (850), Ilija Martinoski (854), Dimitar Grabuloski (1 025), Lazar Magdincev (1 654).

Tickets: Computicket.

TV: SS5 11.30 am to 3.45 pm Friday; SS7 11.30 am to 5 pm Saturday; SS5 8.30 am to 3 pm Sunday.

• Jonathan Cook will be at Emperors Palace for the Davis Cup tie.

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