16 October 2013
A Davis Cup tie that looked almost impossible to win now looks slightly less daunting after Russia named its team to face South Africa in Moscow from 25 to 27 October.
With six first-choice South African players unavailable for a variety of reasons, coach John-Laffnie de Jager found his options severely restricted for the tie at the Tennis Palace of the Army Central Sport Club.
Last week, he named a team made up of Raven Klaasen (44 doubles); Dean O’Brien (557 singles, 527 doubles); Tucket Vorster (617 singles, 540 doubles); and Japie de Klerk (1 477 singles).
Russia has five players ranked inside the world’s top 100, but on Tuesday named only one of those players in its team to take on South Africa in their Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 second round play-off.
Alex Bogomolov Jr, ranked 76th in the world, will spearhead the Russian team. He is joined by Andrey Kuznetsov (142), Konstantin Kravchuk (163) and Karen Khachanov (808), with Shamil Tarpischev captaining the team.
Mikhail Youzhny (21), Dmitry Tursunov (39), Nikolay Davydenko (48) and Evgeny Donskoy (84) were not selected.
The Russians are coming off a tough 2-3 loss to Great Britain in April, which prevented them returning to the World Group.
After Dmitry Tursunov and Evgeny Donskoy put Russia 2-0 up in Coventry with wins over Dan Evans and James Ward respectively, a place in the World Group appeared all but assured. The British, however, won the doubles and Ward overcame a two sets to one deficit to defeat Tursunov before Evans took down Donskoy in straight sets.
Encouragingly for South Africa, both Evans (151) and Ward (183) were ranked some way below their Russian opponents.
South Africa, though, will be trying to end a three-tie losing streak. They went down 4-1 to Slovenia in Ljubljana in their last tie in September. In April, they fell 3-1 to Poland in Zielona Gora, while Canada won 4-1 in Montreal in September 2012.
South Africa’s last win, which suggests something about the importance of playing at home, was achieved in April 2012 when they handily beat Slovenia 4-1 in Soweto. On that occasion, Izak van der Merwe and Ruan Roelofse both overcame much higher ranked players to help guide South Africa to victory.
South Africa and Russia have met twice previously. Spearheaded by former world number one Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russians won 4-1 in Moscow in early 1995. Two years later, in Durban, South Africa turned the tables, recording a 3-1 victory.
Should South Africa lose in Moscow, it would mark the first time since 2008 that the country has been relegated to the Europe/Africa Zone Group 2.
Dean O’Brien, Tucker Vorster, Jacob de Klerk, Raven Klaasen Captain: John-Laffnie de Jager
Alex Bogomolov Jr, Andrey Kuznetsov, Karen Khachanov, Konstantin Kravchuk Captain: Shamil Tarpischev