Johannesburg - Irish Davis Cup captain, Conor Niland, last visited South Africa in 2006 to play a series of Futures tournaments in Durban as a starting out pro.
Today Niland, who played 22 ties for his country since turning professional, is captaining his country’s Davis Cup team and told South African media in a conference call on Tuesday that he was looking forward to returning to the country.
“My team and I look forward to playing at the Irene Country Club in Pretoria,” said Niland. “Only one of our team members, James McGee, has played in South Africa before during the Soweto Open so the trip is rather exciting for us all.”
Niland said he had named his best possible side for the all-important Euro/Africa Group 2 relegation tie to be played from July 17-19. “Apart from injured Louk Sorensen, I will have my best team doing duty in Pretoria. We have no injuries and my boys are all playing this week and next so they are in good form.”
Niland said the Irish were somewhat relieved that Kevin Anderson announced on Monday that he would not be available for the tie and Davis Cup for South Africa indefinitely. “Kevin is a world-class player. We heard that he possibly wasn’t going to play but only until we read on Kevin’s website that he was unavailable did we take that as confirmed. Without Kevin playing, it makes the tie a more even contest as with Kevin playing it would be a real tough order for Ireland to pull off a win. We admit we are pleased he is not part of the side.”
Niland also said he had heard “via the grapevine” that South Africa’s top ranked doubles player, Raven Klaasen, could also not be available for the tie. But Niland did admit that although it was good news that Klaasen may also not play, South Africa had depth and home advantage so they were not getting “too excited” about their chances.
“Even though South Africa have not yet named their side we have a good idea of the players that could be selected and their game styles so are working our game plan around that. We will arrive in South Africa early to prepare and get used to the altitude regardless,” said Niland.
Niland said he was pleased that the court surface chosen by the hosts was hard court. “During winter most of our tennis is played on indoor hard. In the warmer months we play on artificial grass so my guys are used to the quicker surfaces and in fact probably list hard courts as their best surface.”
Niland also said playing at altitude would always be a problem for teams travelling to South Africa. “The hosts will definitely have an advantage with the altitude. But the Irish team are big guys (6ft5 plus) and have big serves and Sam Barry in particular has an aggressive game so the quicker conditions should suite Ireland well.”
For Ireland and South Africa the tie is vitally important. The winner will remain in Euro/Africa Group 2 whilst the loser will be relegated to Group 3.
“As important as the tie is for Ireland it surely is for South Africa. We both don’t want to be demoted and we will both put up the biggest fight to retain Group 2 status,” admitted Niland.
Niland said since the year 2000 Ireland had not been in Group 1 and during the past years have dropped at times to Group 3 and were ambitiously working hard at getting to Group 1.
James McGee (Singles 146 Doubles 562)
Sam Barry (Singles 424 Doubles 310)
James Cluskey (Singles 1785 Doubles 160)
David O’Hare (Singles 1515 Doubles 250)
Captain: Conor Niland
*South Africa will be naming their team on Tuesday, July 7.