SA gear up for key Davis Cup tie

2009-02-23 00:00

THE South Africa team for the vital Davis Cup tie against Macedonia will gather this weekend for the event that takes place from March 6 to 8 at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg.

“We start preparing over the weekend once all the guys arrive from tournaments overseas,” SA Davis Cup captain John-Laffnie de Jager said in a conference call yesterday.

“I am hoping the first practice on the Emperors Palace court will be this Sunday,” De Jager said.

The SA captain told The Witness that should SA win, they would go on to meet Belarus in the second round of the Euro-Africa Group 1 division from May 8 to 10.

“That tie will be held in South Africa and the team will decide where we play it,” De Jager said. “It might be at Emperors Palace or elsewhere in the country, depending on what surface will be best for us.”

De Jager and the team’s intention is to get into the World Group, the pinnacle of Davis Cup, where the likes of tennis heavyweights the U.S. and holders Spain strut their stuff. It’s a tough road, but first there’s the Macedonia hurdle to negotiate.

De Jager, a doubles specialist in his playing days — a pro career that brought him $1,4 million in prize money — said Macedonia are an unknown quantity. And that makes them dangerous.

“I haven’t seen them play, but in their Davis Cup history they have done relatively well to be in Group I,” De Jager said. “I have tried to get footage of their players, but haven’t had any luck. I do know the high altitude in Johannesburg will be to our advantage, as will the hard court at Emperors Palace, as Macedonia’s best results have been on clay.”

The 36-year-old De Jager, three times a grand slam doubles semi-finalist, said he would decide on the second SA singles player — either Izak van der Merwe or Raven Klaasen — once the team had had the opportunity to practise at Emperors Palace.

“Raven is in Australia right now, while Izak has been training in Johannesburg for two weeks. Izak has played Davis Cup before, but Raven impressed me at the SA Open.”

With the injury-enforced absence of SA number one Kevin Anderson, both are capable of being De Voest’s number two in the singles, while De Jager is also opting for the specialist doubles pairing of Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee.

“The doubles point in Davis Cup is so crucial, and Wesley and Jeff have done so well for us,” De Jager said.

Tennis differs from other sports like rugby and cricket, where players earn the lion’s share of their money from playing for their country.

“Tournaments are where the money is in tennis, not Davis Cup, so it can be difficult at times for players, but to their credit our guys have always been keen to play for South Africa,” said De Jager.

“The magic of Davis Cup is that it’s one of the few team events in tennis and our success is raising the profile of the sport here.”

SA DAVIS CUP TEAM:

Rik de Voest, Wesley Moodie, Jeff Coetzee, Izak van der Merwe, Raven Klaasen.

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