New face in SA Davis Cup side
Cape Town - A depleted South African Davis Cup squad was named on Wednesday afternoon for a potential Euro-Africa Group One relegation decider against Slovenia next month.
The name of the world's 19th-ranked Kevin Anderson was conspicuous in its absence. It was no surprise though, as Anderson had already again announced his non-availability.
Also missing from the five-man squad was the perennial Izak van der Merwe, who is recovering from heel and ankle surgery and will only return to tournament tennis in November.
"Naturally it is a great disappointment not to have Kevin (Anderson) in the line-up for what looms as an uphill battle on an unfamiliar clay court surface," said non-playing captain John-Laffnie De Jager.
"But while we might be the underdogs, Davis Cup competition is known for providing the unexpected and I'm sure the players I have selected, who are all fit and raring to go, will battle manfully to the end."
But the grim outcome of Anderson's decision not to end his recent embargo of the Davis Cup while playing the best tennis of his career, is the spectre of relegation is now looming for South Africa, with so much having depended on the country's dominant player.
"I don't think Kevin wants to repeat the reasons for his decision," said his agent, Stuart Duguid.
"He put his case forward when withdrawing from last year's World Group play-off against Canada and the defeat this year against Poland and the situation has not changed.
"While not ruling himself out of contention for future Davis Cup appearances, he would decide on a tie-by-tie basis, putting forward his reasons as the venue, court surface, travel involved, his physical condition and the financial compensation offered by Tennis South Africa for the considerable loss as he attempts to improve his world ranking via tournament action."
With Anderson included, South Africa would have had more than a fighting chance of avoiding defeat against Slovenia, and eliminating any chance of a humbling drop to the Euro-Africa Group Two segment of the Davis Cup after reaching the World Group play-off stage in each of the four previous years.
However, with Anderson an absentee and the likely Slovenian squad of Grega Zemlja, 65th in the world, Aljaz Bedene (107th) and Blaz Kavcic (120th) enjoying home-court advantage and all ranked infinitely higher than South Africa's Rik De Voest on 162nd, the odds will swing heavily in favour of the East Europeans for the tie on September 13 - even though South Africa beat Slovenia 4-1 in entirely different conditions in Soweto last year.
Defeat against the Slovenians would mean South Africa face an even tougher away tie against a Russian line-up that could include players of the calibre of Mikhail Youzhny (27th in the world), Nikolay Davedenko (42nd) and four others in the top 100 to avoid the humbling big relegation big drop.
The team includes the relatively unknown newcomer Dean O'Brien.
O'Brien, who was born in Johannesburg but now resides in the United States, aroused attention by reaching the quarterfinals of the Soweto Open earlier in the year, but has a world ranking of only 602nd.
He will vie with Ruan Roelefse (512th in the world) and Nikala Scholz (631st) for the second singles berth against a Slovenian team with rankings appreciably more favourable than their South African counterparts.
The South African side will be led by number one singles player and long-time Davis Cup stalwart Rik de Voest, who is ranked 162nd in the world.
De Jager confirmed that the world's 62nd-ranked doubles player, Raven Klassen, would be one of the two players representing South Africa in the doubles, with his partner dependent on who is chosen as the second singles player.SA squad:
Rik de Voest, Ruan Roelofse, Nikala Scholz, Raven Klassen and Dean O'Brien.
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