ATP Tour

Muller drop out leaves SA strong favourites

Gilles Muller (AP)
Gilles Muller (AP)

Cape Town - World 46th-ranked Gilles Muller, who boasts a regular succession of victories over such renowned players as Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, as well as South Africa's Kevin Anderson, has pulled out of Luxembourg's team for next week's Euro-Africa Group Two tie at the Irene Country Club in Centurion.

The net result of what has now emerged an "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" scenario, is that despite the absence of top singles and doubles players, Anderson and Raven Klaasen respectively, South Africa are elevated into a position as strong favourites in the initial tentative step to gain promotion to the Euro-Africa Group One segment of the Davis Cup next year.

The 33-year-old Muller, whose lethal left-handed serve have worried even the best players in the world, has almost singularly carried the fortunes of Luxembourg tennis on his shoulders for years, with his absence now leaving in its wake a squad consisting of the 762nd ranked Ugo Nastasi and three amateurs who do not feature among the ATP's top 1 500 players.

The squad for the European nation with a population of  little more than 500 000 - sometimes dubbed "Little Switzerland" - was announced on Wednesday and consists of  Nastasi and veteran doubles specialist Mike Scheidweiler, Alex Knaff and Tom Diederich, who are all amateurs and do not have a professional ranking.

The South African squad consists of Tucker Vorster (ranked 301st by the ATP) and exciting prospect Lloyd Harris (ranked 339th) as the projected singles players and Ruan Roelofse, with a 129th doubles ranking, and Dean O'Brien, ranked 123rd, as the earmarked doubles combination.

The one factor that could prevent what appears the likelihood of an overwhelming South African victory is the relative inexperience of Harris at Davis Cup level, but his steady progress suggests he could well have the measure of Luxembourg number one Nastasi in what is likely to be his opening singles match.

One factor is certain. The absence of Muller has eroded the Irene tie of much of its competitive expectation - a two-edged sword for the financially battling Tennis South Africa.

On the one side it should ensure South Africa progressing to the next promotion segment for a tougher game against either Lithuania or Norway, but it will, in all probability, temper interest and attendance among spectators who would have been drawn by the presence of seeing Muller in action and what this could have meant.

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