SA fire in davis cup

In chilly, overcast conditions in front of a meagre, but vociferous crowd, there was a distinctly red-hot and emotional reaction among those present as South Africa secured an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Euro-Africa Group One Davis Cup tie against Belarus at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre on Saturday and assured a place in the playoffs for next year's elite World Group.

In chilly, overcast conditions in front of a meagre, but vociferous crowd, there was a distinctly red-hot and emotional reaction among those present as South Africa secured an unassailable 3-0 lead in the Euro-Africa Group One Davis Cup tie against Belarus at the Arthur Ashe Tennis Centre on Saturday and assured a place in the playoffs for next year's elite World Group.

And little wonder about this jubilation following the 6-36-47-6 (7-5) doubles success of Rik de Voest and Jeff Coetzee over the Belarus pairing of Max Mirnyi and Siarhei Betau after South Africa have waited 11 long, often heart-breaking and frustrating years to regain a place in the top echelon of teams in the Davis Cup competition.

The comprehensive victory over Belarus in itself, however, was tinged with a somewhat hollow element in view of the illness of the East Europeans' top player and former world number one junior, Ignatik Uldzimir.

He was forced to retire from his singles match against Izak van der Merwe and was not considered for the doubles because of the stomach ailment that resulted in him bringing up on the court on Friday.

And with the youthful Betau coming into the doubles to partner old stalwart Max Mirnyi for Belarus, it was the superior teamwork and ability to keep unforced errors to a minimum that gave the South African pairing of De Voest and Coetzee a decisive advantage.

The fearsome-serving Mirnyi surprisingly dropped his first service game of the match for the only break in the opening set and Betau dropped serve at 3-3 in the second set, while the consistent pair of De Voest and Coetzee did not surrender a single service game throughout the match.

But the South Africans experienced a mini-crisis after a rain delay at 5-5 in the third set when Belarus secured a mini-break and led 5-3 in the tiebreaker.

At that point De Voest and Coetzee's greater cohesion, teamwork and unwavering temperament swung the match back in their favour.

South African team captain John-Laffnie de Jager said in view of the outcome having been decided, he would bring in Raven Klaasen for yesterday's reverse singles, which was to be reduced to the best of three sets.

And looking ahead to the World Group playoffs, which could result in South Africa facing a formidable opponent of the calibre of France, Switzerland, Serbia or Chile in September, De Jager said the main wish at this stage was to secure a home tie.

The one disconcerting element surrounding South Africa's success was the dismal size of the crowds at the Soweto venue, with whites as well as blacks letting the national team down badly.

And, in this respect, the marketing of the event by the South African Tennis Association has been palpably inadequate - with no help whatsoever emanating from SuperSport TV and previous Davis Cup sponsors Emperors Palace. - Sapa

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