Aarhus – South African tennis was given a huge lift with the national team’s promotion to Davis Cup‘s Europe/Africa Group 1 competition following a triumphant playoff in Denmark on Sunday.
Playing in the higher tier in 2018 will mean some of the world’s stronger tennis playing nations will be competing on South African soil and that is likely to boost interest in the game substantially.
It may also tempt South Africa’s best player, Kevin Anderson, to make himself available for Davis Cup duty.
After two years of struggling for promotion from Group II, the country’s controlling tennis body, Tennis South Africa (TSA), has assembled a squad with coaches that finally produced the goods.
For now, the national squad has a doubles team that can compete with the best in the world and at least one singles player that can hold his own against most players in the world’s top 200.
On Sunday, South Africa’s No 1 singles player, 20-year-old Lloyd Harris played a blinder against Denmark’s seasoned campaigner Frederik Nielsen in the first of the reverse singles. Apart from a second-set stutter, Harris looked every inch a winner en route to a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 win which gave South Africa an unassailable 3-1 lead.
Both teams agreed to call off the second reverse singles because the outcome would not affect the overall result of the playoff.
After the match, Harris was full of praise for Nielsen who has played several Grand Slam events, as well as being a former Wimbledon doubles champion.
“I was very happy with today’s match obviously because Freddy (Nielsen) is a world-class player,” said Harris. “I felt he played so well today and I had to bring my A game.
“I came out firing and I was really excited to see how things were going. When the first set ended 6-1, I was tremendously happy.
“Obviously the second set didn’t go as planned after he came out firing. He played some ridiculously good shots that were really top-class.
“Then I regrouped and played a tremendous third and fourth set too. I was really enjoying myself there today.
“After I won, I felt glad for the team and for the country. The support was so amazing from Marcos (Ondruska) to everyone else in the squad’s support and I was super pumped up.”
Ondruska, the South African captain, was emotionally charged afterwards as he spoke about the sustained efforts to seek promotion to Davis Cup’s Group 1 tier.
“It has been an extremely good day and to emerge 3-1 from the tie is just incredible at this moment,” said Ondruska. “It was something that we set out to achieve two years ago as a group.”
Ondruska spoke about Harris in glowing terms, given his superb display against Denmark’s perennial trump card.
“Lloyd was simply incredible and showed the class that he has already developed here.
“He played Freddy who for years has been Denmark’s stalwart. Year after year he has produced the goods in Davis Cup singles ties.
“For Lloyd to come out and do what he did to Freddy in the first set is a true testament to the skills and talents this young man has.
“He has great potential for the future.”
In terms of the revised Davis Cup rules, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has announced that all newly promoted teams will be home for their first tie next year.
South Africa will therefore host their first 2018 Davis Cup tie.