21 January 2014
Tennis South Africa on Monday announced the South African team to take on Monaco in a Euro/Africa Zone Group 2 Davis Cup tie. The teams will meet at the Irene Country Club in Pretoria from 31 January to 2 February.
With John-Laffnie de de Jager serving as captain, the South African team is Izak van der Merwe, Rik de Voest, Raven Klaasen, Ruan Roelofse and Nikala Scholtz.
De Jager will be forced to trim the squad down to four players by the start of the tie, but he does at least have options, unlike when South Africa had to face Russia in Moscow in October with a team decimated by withdrawals. The highest ranked South African for that tie was Dean O’Brien, at number 529. He’s not among the five players from which De Jager will select his team.
‘I am happy’
Despite South Africa’s top player Kevin Anderson not making himself available for the tie, De Jager will be able to welcome Izak van der Merwe back into the team. “I am happy that Izak has recovered from his injury and this can be a good start for him,” De Jager said of the injury that had sidelined the 2011 Soweto Open winner for many months.
In April of 2013 Van der Merwe suffered a chronic injury due to playing an excessive amount of tennis.
“I have not played any events since surgery [a small part of the heel bone was removed] on the 18th of April last year,” Van der Merwe said in a statement. “Davis Cup will be my first event back. I have been training for the last few months, preparing hard for this tie.
“The recovery from my heel injury has been a slow process, but it has gone very well. Over the last few weeks I made great progress on the practice court. It has taken a lot of patience, but I look forward to getting back on the Davis cup team and competing on the ATP Tour,” he added.
The tie will be a special one for Rik de Voest who will be playing international tennis for the first time at his home courts in Irene where he started the game at the age of five.
‘It is going to be amazing’
“It is going to be amazing to play a Davis Cup tie at Irene Country Club,” he said. “I believe the exposure to international players and the national team will further benefit the development and interest in tennis at Irene.
“Now nearing the end phase of my tennis career, and with my long history with the club, it’s going to be extra special to play a Davis Cup tie at the club where it all began for me.”
Assessing his players, De Jager said De Voest and Van der Merwe were very good high altitude players and said Nikala Scholtz has also enjoyed success at altitude.
Ruan Roelofse has proved, according to De Jager, to be “a great all-round player that can play singles and doubles”, thus allowing the captain a number of good choices when naming his final four.
Playing the best tennis of his career
A key member of the team is the evergreen Raven Klaasen, the team’s doubles specialist. At the age of 31, he is currently playing the best tennis of his career.
Ranked 45th in the world doubles ranking, Klaasen has reached the quarterfinals of the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, with his American partner Eric Butorac.
The pair, who bagged three titles on the ATP World Tour in 2013, shocked top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan of the USA, the winners of 15 Grand Slam titles, in straight sets in the third round.
‘A very experienced team’
“I am very happy with the team to face Monaco. It is a very experienced team I selected,” commented De Jager. “Rik, Raven and Izak have more than 20 years of Davis Cup experience between them. It is crucial for us to win this match because we want to be back in Group 1 in 2015.”
“Irene Country Club is a great venue and we hope to get lots of support from the local tennis supporters.”
Monaco will name their team on Wednesday.
South Africa is 34th in the Davis Cup rankings, while Monaco occupies 59th place.