Davis Cup defeat another body blow for SA tennis

2016-07-20 14:12
Tennis (File)

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 tennis.

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.

In Lithuania, 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.

In singles, 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 in singles.

But, perhaps, 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 strengths.

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.

Read more on:    davis cup  |  tennis

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