JOHANNESBURG – South African team captain John-Laffnie de Jager announced a squad of five tennis players on Monday for the Davis Cup Euro-Africa Group Two clash against Monaco in Pretoria, from January 31 to February 2.
The five players are Rik de Voest, Izak van der Merwe, Raven Klaasen, Ruan Roelofse and Nikala Scholtz.
The team received a boost following doubles specialist Klaasen's performance at the Australian Open on Monday in toppling 15-times grand slam champions Mike and Bob Bryan in partnership with American Eric Butorac, and qualifying for the quarter-finals.
“Raven has improved his serve noticeably and is now rated a world-class doubles player,” said De Jager.
He indicated that his shadow doubles combination for the Monaco tie was the pairing of Klaasen and Van der Merwe.
After missing tournament tennis most of last year following foot surgery in April, Van der Merwe has completed a rigorous comeback programme in the last three months.
De Jager said long-time Davis Cup stalwart De Voest would occupy one of the two singles berths, with either Roelofse or Scholtz filling the other position for the opening two matches.
“After that, we will see how the tie progresses before deciding who will play in the final two singles matches,” said the South African team captain.
South Africa will be firm favourites on familiar home courts and at high altitude to oust Monaco.
De Jager said sterner opposition, in the way of earning a return to the Euro-Africa Group One segment following last year's relegation, lay ahead against countries like an up-and-coming Lithuania and Finland.
South Africa's top tennis player Kevin Anderson, who was knocked out of the Australian Open after going down to his Czech nemesis, Tomas Berdych, on Sunday, remained absent from the Davis Cup team.
De Jager said the prospect of playing for the US in the Davis Cup once he was eligible in 2015 had been mentioned as possible reasons for Anderson's unavailability for the South African team.
“But we cannot continue bemoaning Anderson's absence while not being able to do anything about it,” he said.
“Instead, we must face up to the reality of a new era looming and the urgent need to replace players like De Voest and Van der Merwe who have given admirable service over a lengthy period.”
De Jager believed Scholtz and a second up-and-coming player at a US university, Japie de Klerk, had the talent to take over the mantle and lead South African tennis into the new era.
He felt that while the SA Tennis Association's (Sata) shortage of major sponsorship meant the desired return of an ATP World Tour and Challenger events were out of reach, third-tier Futures events could be staged in the country.
“This would give the promising young local players the chance to earn points in the world rankings before making the essential journey overseas in their quest to work their way up the international ladder,” he said.
As for his own position, De Jager confirmed his contract as Davis Cup captain would expire after the Monaco tie, but that he had made himself available as a candidate to be re-appointed when Sata decided on the position for the coming year. – Sapa