Strong SA for Davis Cup
John-Laffnie de Jager (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Davis Cup team captain John-Laffnie de Jager heaved a sigh of relief on Friday after all South Africa's top tennis players declared themselves available for the crucial Euro-Africa Group One tie against the Netherlands in July.
And little wonder. It is the first time in four years that De Jager has enjoyed what might be considered a luxury under the circumstances after key players Kevin Anderson -- the country's number one singles player -- and Wesley Moodie, South Africa's top doubles exponent, had made themselves unavailable on different occasions from participating in the Davis Cup.
The world's 40th-ranked Anderson has not featured in the Davis Cup for more than two years in a period in which South Africa have frustratingly failed at the last hurdle to qualify for the Davis Cup's elite World Group after an absence of 11 years.
"I think all the players now realise how vitally important it is for South African tennis to return to the World Group," said De Jager, "and that all our resources will be needed if we are to stand what will, in any case, be a testing challenge."
The South African team captain pointed out that in Themo de Bakker and Robin Haase the Netherlands have two players who are ranked 53rd and 56th in the world and will be a tough nut to crack.
The winner then goes through to the World Group play-offs to play either one of the other nations seeking promotion or one of the first-round losers in this year's World Group.
And with the prospect of selecting a strongest possible line-up, De Jager's task will be to unravel the strongest line-up, with Anderson earmarked for the number one singles slot and Moodie an obvious choice for the doubles.
South Africa's number two singles player, in the circumstances, would presumably be either the ever-reliable Rik De Voest or Izak van der Merwe -- with De Voest, Van der Merwe, Anderson and Jeff Coetzee all possibles to partner Moodie in the doubles.
De Voest's experience will assuredly result in his services being utilised in one way or another, but De Jager will, no doubt, take into account that it is Van der Merwe who is currently South Africa's second-ranked singles player and that he also reached the semi-finals of the South African Open recently in similar conditions to those which are likely to be chosen for The Netherlands tie.
The decline of Coetzee in ATP tournaments over the past 18 months means that his long-standing partnership with Moodie is far from a certainty.
The venue of the Netherlands' tie will be decided during the next 10 days, but De Jager and South African Tennis Association CEO Ian Smith indicated it would be played at high altitude in order to give the home side a maximum advantage.