Long road back to Davis Cup elite for SA after relegation in Portugal

Team SA captain, Marcos Ondruska (R) with South African Davis Cup players Ruan Roelofse and Lloyd Harris during the SA and Israel practice session prior to at Irene Country Club on January 31, 2018 in Pretoria.
Team SA captain, Marcos Ondruska (R) with South African Davis Cup players Ruan Roelofse and Lloyd Harris during the SA and Israel practice session prior to at Irene Country Club on January 31, 2018 in Pretoria.
Image: Reg Caldecott

South Africa’s road to the newly established Davis Cup Finals tournament suffered a major setback when they were relegated from Euro-Africa Group 1 in Portugal at the weekend.

The 4-0 drubbing against Portugal in Lisbon sees SA drop to Euro-Africa Group 2 in 2019‚ which means they are unlikely to make it to the new 18-team finals until 2021 at the earliest. And even that is a long way off.

Without top player Kevin Anderson‚ who has not played Davis Cup for six years‚ SA were outgunned on the slow red clay of the CIF-Club Internacional De Foot-Ball in the heart of Lisbon.

“People will say we were underdogs going into the tie versus Portugal – playing away‚ on clay‚ against a team of ‘top 200 ranked players’ – we were always up against it‚” Tennis SA chief executive Richard Glover said.

“I disagree. These are just excuses. We lost both our Davis Cup ties this year (one at home and one away) and so the brutal truth is that we deserve to be relegated back to Group 2.

“When we were promoted last year it did not mean everything was suddenly rosy within tennis in South Africa. Similarly relegation now does not mean all is doom and gloom.

“I will definitely be reviewing how I could have better supported our 2018 Davis Cup campaign. I expect everyone in and around the team to do the same.”

On Friday top singles player Lloyd Harris was smashed 6-1 6-1 by Pedro Sousa in under an hour to put SA immediately on the back foot.

In the second rubber‚ Nik Scholtz started well. He broke his higher ranked opponent Joao Sousa’s serve in the opening game and was 30-0 up serving when Sousa came back strong and broke back to level the match at 1-1.

Sousa proved his class in beating a fighting Scholtz 6-3 6-2 to give Portugal their second win on the opening day.

Having won just seven games in two matches on the opening day‚ doubles specialist Raven Klaasen teamed up with Ruan Roelofse against Joao Sousa and Gastao Elias. They battled to keep SA in the tie.

They were eventually beaten 6-4 6-7(4) 6-2. The doubles rubber win gave the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead.

Both team captains agreed to play one reverse singles rubber following the doubles. SA captain Marcos Ondruska named debutant junior Philip Henning to do duty for his country who went up against Joao Domingues.

Domingues beat Henning 6-4 6-0 to give Portugal a 4-0 clean sweep victory.

“The conditions were tough out there‚” Klaasen said.

“The court certainly was prepared well by the Portuguese to suit their games and with the capacity crowd behind them it made it tough today.

“But we had our chances and felt we were playing well enough to win the rubber but Joao and Gastao were just too strong.”

Ondruska was left stunned.

“It was a tough loss and I am still trying to understand where we went wrong‚” said Ondruska.

“I felt we played well but Portugal were just too good and played extremely well and used their home tie advantage to full advantage and credit to them for doing that.

“On paper Portugal are the higher ranked team‚ individually and as a team so it was always going to be a tall order to beat them especially away‚ but I did feel we had a chance and that the South African’s played well enough to win‚ the Portuguese were just better this weekend.”

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