High noon at World Group play-off

2009-09-18 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — It is truly what ESPN’s TV publicists proclaim “a time to separate the contenders from the pretenders” when South Africa take on India in the Davis Cup World Group play-off, starting at Ellis Park at an appropriate high noon today.

It provides both countries with the elusive opportunity of returning to the elite segment of world tennis’s most prestigious team event after 12 years.

India received a hefty setback yesterday when pleas from team captain Prakash Misra for charismatic star Leander Paes to reconsider his withdrawal because of injury fell on deaf ears.

With Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi in partnership, the combination widely recognised as one of the most feared in the world would have been firm favourites to win the doubles at Ellis Park against South Africa’s Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee in what might ultimately be the decider in the tie.

Now Bhupathi, who will be partnered by number two singles player Rohan Bopanna, readily admits that the prospects in the doubles are no more than “50-50”.

And yesterday’s draw was another factor to provide encouragement for South Africa when number two singles player Izak van der Merwe came out of the hat to play Indian number one Somdev Devvarman in the opening clash of the tie.

This means that the uncanny sequence in which number one Rik De Voest has been drawn to play the second game in South Africa’s unbeaten streak of 10 Davis Cup matches will continue against Bopanna.

For all this, team captain John-Laffnie de Jager said he is not thinking about the favourable repurcussions of a win against India, which could place South Africa in opposition against such tennis luminaries as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

This is sure to be an intriguing tussle and a sentimental reminder of the aborted Davis Cup final between South Africa and India 35 years ago, when India withdrew because of apartheid and South Africa were awarded by default what is still the country’s only triumph in the competition.

The Davis Cup Draw:

Today: (starts at noon) Izak van der Merwe (RSA) v Somdev Devvarman (Ind); Rik De Voest (RSA) v Rohan Bopanna (Ind).

Tomorrow: (starts at 1 pm) Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee (RSA) v Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna (Ind).

Sunday: (starts at noon) Rik De Voest (RSA) v Somdev Devvarman (Ind); Izak van der Merwe (RSA) v Rohan Bopanna (Ind). — Sapa.

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