Pretoria - South Africa have slumped to a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat against Lithuania in the Euro-Africa Group Two Davis Cup tie at the Irene Country Club on Sunday after entering the final day's play with a 2-1 lead.
The writing was on the wall for South Africa when long-time stalwart Rik De Voest, playing in his final Davis Cup tie was beaten 6-2 6-4 5-7 7-5 by Ricardas Berankis in the game between the tie's respective number-one players.
South African team captain John-Laffnie de Jager reversed an earlier, somewhat surprise decision when he fielded the 744th-ranked Ruan Roelofse instead of the 863rd-ranked Jean Andersen for the decisive final game.
But it made no difference, with Lithuania's more seasoned and experienced Laurynas Grigelis beating Roelofse 7-6 (5) 3-6 7-6 (3) 6-4.
The outcome of the unhappy defeat for South African tennis is that the country will remain in the modest Euro-Africa Group Two segment of the Davis Cup next year.
Lithuania, relative minnows in the tournament, will now be afforded the opportunity of reaching Euro-Africa Group One for the first time.
After the opening two singles had been shared on Friday, the South African doubles combination of Raven Klaasen and Andersen beat Berankis and Grigelis in the four-set doubles encounter on Saturday.
South Africa had always been confident that their doubles superiority would ultimately be the telling factor, but preconceived notions were blown sky high by the Lithuanians' singles superiority.
It was a bitter-sweet final Davis Cup tie for De Voest, in particular.
He had been honoured by the International Tennis Federation on Friday for joining an exclusive band of players who have represented their country in 20 or more Davis Cup ties.
But his recent lack of match practice in tournaments following the birth of his first child, which resulted in his world ranking plummeting 72 places to 261st, was reflected in an uneasy start against the rock-solid Berankis while losing the first two sets 6-2 6-4.
There has never been any questioning of De Voest's unwavering temperament and determination to give 100 percent in Davis Cup matches and he fought back impressively while having break points to level the game against Berankis at two sets apiece.
Berankis held his nerve while facing a mini-crisis at 4-5 in the fourth set and De Voest allowed the slender, beckoning hope of a comeback in his final Davis Cup outing to slip away.
Both singles on the final day were tense, emotional matches with Roelofse, in particular, missing some great opportunities of salvaging a South African success.
He served double faults while a break ahead in both the first and third set tiebreakers and then served double faults on both occasions to surrender each of these sets in turn.
Roelofse attempted to upset Grigelis by rushing the net at every opportunity and this paid dividends when he levelled matters by winning the second set and breaking service first in the third set.
The impetus of these tactics gradually fizzled out and Grigelis finished the match with a flourish in the final set in spite of serving 10 doubles faults overall in a game of a number of spectacular winners, but an even greater number of unforced errors.
Roelofse served with awesome power and accuracy for most of the match and recorded 12 aces.
His lack of experience in what was his first designated five-set singles Davis Cup singles game proved his downfall in the end.