Tough Davis Cup task for SA
Johannesburg - It was one of those "good and bad news" draws for South Africa when the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday decided on the matchups for the Davis Cup World Group playoffs, which will take place from September 14 to 16.
South Africa have been paired with Canada and the overwhelming good news is that the tie will be staged in South Africa - a decision taken by the drawing of lots because of the lengthy period since the two countries last faced each other in Davis Cup competition.
The bad news is that South Africa will probably be confronted by one of the hottest emerging prospects in world tennis in the dynamic 21-year-old Milos Raonic, who is currently ranked 25th in the world and was in 2011 voted "Newcomer of the Year" by the ATP.
Canada also have at their disposal two highly competent supporting players to Raonic in Vasek Pospisil and Frank Dancevic, who are ranked 95th and 111th in the world respectively. They also have doubles specialist Daniel Nestor
Nestor, who is 39 years old and ranked No 3 on the world doubles ranking is rated by many as the greatest doubles player in the open era.
To emphasise the task facing South Africa in a bid to qualify for the elite World Group of the Davis Cup in 2013 is the fact that Raonic beat 33rd world-ranked South African No 1, Kevin Anderson, on the only previous occasion the two big-serving giants have met.
The 25-year-old Anderson stands at a daunting 6ft 8in against Raonic's 6ft 5in, but it is the Canadian who is credited with having more flair and variety to his play than the South African No 1.
Anderson and South African No 2 Rik De Voest made themselves unavailable for last week's Euro-Africa Group One tie in Soweto, which South Africa won 4-1 to qualify for the World Group playoffs, after Izak van der Merwe emerged the hero with three wins from his three matches.
Canada will clearly be a different prospect and South Africa would be hard-pressed to earn a World Group position for the first time in 15 years, if Anderson and De Voest do not make themselves available this time around.
Even at full-strength, South Africa won't find it easy ending the jinx that has resulted in defeats against India, Germany and Croatia in World Group playoffs in the past three years.
It has become standard for South African team captain John-Laffnie de Jager to plump for a high altitude venue for home Davis Cup venues because it favours big-serving players of the ilk of Anderson and Van der Merwe, but there could be a rethink on this occasion because of the threat of the cannonball-serving Raonic.
“Other than the advantage of playing against Canada at home, drawing Canada is not great. They are so good in singles and doubles as they have Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor in their side. Raonic is one of the up and coming stars on the professional tour ranked at No 25 and Nestor is arguably the greatest doubles player in the open era. So with a great singles and doubles line up and the fact that they enjoy playing at altitude, makes the draw tough against Canada," said De Jager.
The draw is as follows:
2012 World Group playoffs
Kazakhstan (s) (*) v Uzbekistan
Germany (s) v Australia
Japan (*) v Israel (s)
Belgium v Sweden (s)
South Africa (*) v Canada (s)
Brazil v Russia (s)
Italy (s) v Chile
Netherlands v Switzerland (s)
Nations with choice of ground are listed first
(s) denotes seeded nation
(*) denotes choice of ground determined by lot