Cape Town - Unthinkable in the past, South Africa's 3-2 Euro-Africa
Group Two defeat against modest Lithuania at the Azuolynas Tennis Centre in
Kaunas over the weekend constitutes another body blow for South African
But, perhaps, what
is more painful for the country's tennis future is that this jarring setback,
which leaves South Africa becalmed at the third tier level of what the ITF
terms the World Cup of the sport, is that it is being passed over with a
minimum amount of concern and introspection.
Raven Klaasen, South Africa's solitary shining light at top level on the
international tennis firmament, partnered by Ruan Roelofse, crushed their
opponents by the loss of only five games in three straight sets.
however, the same two Lithuanians, Lourynas Grigelis and Lukas Mugevicius,
ranked 423rd and 737th in the world, respectively, outgunned South Africa's
Lloyd Harris and Tucker Vorster in all their three matches to build up an
insurmountable 3-1 lead before Vorster reduced the deficit against a reserve
substitute in a dead rubber.
Going back to
what might be termed "the good old days" when South Africa featured
among the leading tennis-playing nations in the world, it is not inconceivable
what Klaasen and Roelofse produced in doubles could well have been duplicated
the most sombre revelation from the tie was the realisation that the 19-year-old, 331st-ranked Harris, widely considered South Africa's best, if not
only foreseeable prospect of aspiring to
the top echelon of the game, has a mountain to climb to come close to
contemporaries like the 19-year-old Alexander Zverev, ranked 30th in the
world, Dominic Thiem, ninth in the
world, Lucas Pouille, 22nd in the world, and 19-year-old Borna Coric, who this
week gained Croatia's decisive victory in the World Group Davis Cup
quarter-final match-up against the United States.
But herein lies the true tragedy for South African
tennis, with Harris considered by many to have the talent to make it to the top
level, yet stifled because of the limited infra-structure in the country to
cater for up-and-coming prospects with a semblance of out-of-ordinary talent.
There is not a single ATP tournament in South Africa, not
even at second-tier Challenger level, despite 62 countries around the world able
to cater for one of these events; no Super Squad concept for promising young
players based strictly on merit and ability and which was the basis of
producing players who could compete with the best in the world - and not even a
South African Open Championship as a limited incentive.
What South Africa has at its pinnacle level - and
apparent objective right now - is the introduction of the internationally lowly-rated ITF Futures
tournaments. But, in truth, there is no future for those with ambitions to
reach the top from Futures tournaments.
As for the jarring defeat against Lithuania, both countries' number one
players, Kevin Anderson and Ricardas
Berankis, made themselves unavailable
for the recent tie and this, in a sense, evened out the team's respective
Recently-appointed South African team captain Marcos
Ondruska might have erred in not including the relatively more experienced Nic
Scholtz in his team for one of the single
berths, but it is problematic if this
switch would have had the desired effect and, in case, such a decision now
seems easier to make with the benefit of foresight.
Ondruska, a doughty Davis Cup fighter during his playing
career, is because of Tennis South Africa's financial constraints required to
pursue his coaching career primarily in the United States. Not an ideal
situation for the national team captain - although clearly not a situation of
Ondruska's own making.