ATP Tour

SA back in top-level tennis after 2 decades

2020-01-06 15:48
Lloyd Harris
Lloyd Harris (Getty Images)

Cape Town - This is the heartening good news.

After more than two decades - the late 1990s in the World Group of the Davis Cup to be exact - South Africa are participating at the top level of a major world team tennis tournament with commendable performances in their opening round robin games of the inaugural ATP Cup in Brisbane against Serbia and Chile.

The disconcerting news is that the South African combination of Kevin Anderson, Lloyd Harris, Raven Klaasen and Ruan Roelofse have been drawn in what appears unquestionably the toughest of the six groups of four teams among the 24 competing nations.

The remaining countries in South Africa's Group A of the event from January 3 to 12 that will be staged simultaneously in three Australian cities are Serbia, France and Chile, with the six group winners making it into the quarter-finals alongside the two best-placed teams finishing as runners-up in the initial round-robin segment.

Matches consist of two singles and one doubles, with Anderson emerging from his opening game with much credit after a six-month injury-plagued absence from tournament play against iconic 16-times Grand Slam champion and current world No 2, Novak Djokovic, despite an absorbing and intriguing 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6) loss.

Harris too impressed against 34th world-ranked Dusan Lajovic, although going down 3-6, 7-6 (7/4) 6-3. But the unexpected 6-3, 6-2 doubles defeat of Raven Klaasen and Ruan Roelofse against Nikola Cacic and Viktor Troicki meant a potentially costly 3-0 loss against the Serbians.

The South African team, however, showed commendable fighting spirit on Monday by reversing their fortunes and beating Chile 3-0, with Anderson producing a devastating service display while beating Cristian Garin 6-0, 6-3; the 22-year-old Harris maintaining his upward trend in a 6-4, 6-4 success  against Nicolas Jarry and Klaasen and Roelofse regaining much of their touch in a 1-6, 6-3, 10-7 recovery win over Garin and Jarry.

Now, however, to stand any chance of qualifying for the quarter-final stage, South Africa will need to beat France, who have a line-up of ninth world-ranked Gael Monfils and 24th ranked Benoit Paire and one of the strongest doubles combinations in the tournament - with even such an eventuality not ensuring further progress in the tournament.

But whatever happens against the canny French, South African tennis has already demonstrated after 20 years an ability to hold their own at the top level of team competitions.

For the record, Serbia, France, the Spanish-led team of Rafael Nadal and Russia remain the ATP Cup favourites, with the doubles well emerging a decisive factor and producing a surprise winner in an unpredictably designed format.

Apart from the notable absence of 20-times Grand Slam winner Roger Federer and the injured pair of Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori, most of the world's leading players are participating in Brisbane, Perth or Sydney, with the event, however, arousing a good deal of controversy because of its proximity and apparent rivalry to the ITF's traditional and esteemed 120-year-old Davis Cup.

 

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