De Jager plans long road back

Johannesburg - South Africa team captain John-Laffnie de Jager has launched his plans for the long road back up the Davis Cup ladder by contacting all possible candidates for the Euro-Africa Group Two tie against Monaco at the Irene Country Club in Pretoria from January 31 to February 2.

"I've sent messages to all the potential players asking them if they are available and that includes Kevin Anderson," said De Jager on Wednesday.

South Africa's number one player, Anderson, had not made himself available for Davis Cup duty in the past two years but De Jager was encouraged by Anderson's recent tweet on the death of former president Nelson Mandela: "Mandela's courage to forgive & determination for equality changed a nation & inspired millions around the world. Rest in peace #Madiba #tata".

Although it was unlikely Anderson would play, De Jager said it was only right to include Anderson on the list while seeking confirmation who would be available.

For the rest, De Jager expected perennial Davis Cup stalwart Rik De Voest to be available again after missing the relegation tie against Russia six week ago because of the birth of his first child.

"Coincidentally, Rik learnt his tennis at the Irene Country Club as a youngster and I'm sure playing there again will be of special significance for him."

The captain was hopeful Izak van der Merwe, who has been out of tennis for most of the year following foot and ankle surgery, would also be back.

"Izak is planning to return to tournament competition early in January and, even if he is not fully fit by the time we play Monaco, he would still be a valuable acquisition for doubles action."

De Jager said there was a doubt about South Africa's two most promising young players, Japie de Klerk and Nikala Scholz, who are both studying at universities in the US.

"The players are on conditional scholarships and the universities concerned have first call on their services and we require permission for their release."

Although South Africa plunged to a 5-0 defeat in the last tie against Russia, De Klerk made an impressive Davis Cup debut and extended Alex Bogomolov, a player who has been ranked as high as 30th in the world, in a closely-contested four-set match.

"The Monaco tie would be ideal for one or both youngsters to be included in the squad even if they do not play in the matches. But I'll have to wait and see what the situation is regarding their universities."

South Africa should not be unduly troubled in progressing beyond the Monaco tie in next year's Davis Cup, but the path towards regaining promotion to Euro-Africa Group One could be tricky afterwards.

Regaining a coveted place in the prestigious World Group, for which South Africa challenged in the final play-offs on four successive occasions from 2009 to 2012, still remains some distance away.

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