Johannesburg – Long-serving South African Davis Cup stalwart Izak van der Merwe has not recovered sufficiently from surgery and will not be fit to play in the critical Euro-Africa Group One relegation tie against Russia next month.
This was confirmed on Saturday by South Afican team captain John-Laffnie de Jager, who said he had been hoping Van der Merwe could reinforce the squad that recently suffered a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Slovenia.
“Izak has made steady progress following surgery to his ankle and heel, which has kept him out of tournament tennis for the last five months,” said De Jager.
“I was hoping he would be ready to reinforce the team in doubles, if not singles.
“However, the doctors have advised him not to participate in any competitive play before November, although I must emphasise that Izak was desperately keen to help out in the tie that is of such great importance to South African tennis.”
Better news for De Jager is that Ruan Roelofse has recovered from the hamstring strain incurred in the Slovenia tie and should be fit for the tie in Russia that starts on October 19.
With South African number one Kevin Anderson giving no indication of ending his controversial 20-month boycott of Davis Cup matches, De Jager will now probably have to settle for the same line-up that faced Slovenia.
The defeat against Slovenia – which might easily have been 5-0 had the East Europeans not conceded the final game on a walkover – has left South Africa uneasily placed in facing an even stronger Russian line-up in order to retain the current position in the Davis Cup competition and avoid relegation to the third-tier Euro-Africa Group Two.
Ironically, the turnabout of South Africa's fortunes has emerged after South Africa competed in World Group play-offs in each of the past four years and might well have retained a position in the competition's pinnacle segment for the first time since 1998 had Anderson consistently made himself available.
South African tennis officials have said there is no evidence at this stage of any change in Anderson's stance and plans are in progress to select a squad without the world's 21st-ranked player.
Without Anderson in the South African squad, Russia, with six players among the world's top 100 players in Mikhail Youzhny (20th), Dimitry Tursunov (34th), Nikolay Daveydenko (43rd), Alex Bogomolov jnr (68th), Evgent Donskey (90th) and Andrey Kuznetsov (98th) would appear a racing certainty to avoid the drop to Euro-Africa Group Two.
South Africa, with the 162nd ranked Rik de Voest, who is the country's number two after Anderson, would likely take a backward step in the 130-nation event in which they are one of only 13 countries to have won the Davis Cup since its inception 113 years ago. – Sapa