AARHUS, Denmark – It has fallen on the shoulders of Nik Scholtz to provide South Africa with the perfect start to their Euro/Africa Group II Davis Cup tie against Denmark on Friday.
The fact that Thursday’s pre-match draw was held at the world-famous Aarhus Library may just be a clue that the tie may go according to the book (world rankings), and the Danish players have throughout the week endorsed that view by saying South Africa are the favourites.
Overall, the SA players have a better world ranking collectively, and that makes them favourites. However, by virtue of Denmark’s Davis Cup history over the last while, they are seeded fourth.
In contrast, South Africa – who have been battling their way up from Davis Cup’s lower-tier competitions in the past few years – are not seeded and that may draw into sharp focus the battle on opposite sides of the net: the individual’s ranking versus the team’s ranking.
In the opening rubber, SA’s No 2 Scholtz (402) comes up against the vastly experienced Denmark No 1 Frederik Nielsen (557), who is well-equipped to spearhead his country’s campaign.
The 34-year-old Nielsen has a Grand Slam pedigree which is unmatched by any other player in this tie. He was a singles quarter-finalist in three of the four majors, and was a 2012 Wimbledon doubles winner with Britain’s Jonathan Marray.
The 26-year-old Scholtz has one main draw Grand Slam appearance in singles and doubles, but he is relishing the prospect of securing a winning start for South Africa.
“I’m pleased to start because that gives me the chance to provide the team with momentum to carry into the next singles match later on,” said Scholtz.
“But really it doesn’t make a difference for me because I prefer playing first rather than waiting for the first match to finish.
“The obvious benefit of winning the first rubber is that the No 2 does not have the burden of a ‘must-win’ clash, and it allows him to play with more freedom.
“When you play first, your role is vital and could determine the vibe for the rest of the tie, so getting a win first up sets the mood in the camp.”
Nielsen was very composed when the African News Agency (ANA) approached him for comment. He was pleased with the way the draw turned out.
“I am the senior player in the team and my role is to help give direction, so I’m pleased to be first up,” said Nielson, a Davis Cup stalwart with 14 seasons under the belt.
“Fortunately, we are not burdened by the expectations of winning because there are none in our country. We don’t have fans that are excited by Davis Cup in the country.
“We know it is going to be tough, and I’m saying that because of the rankings of the SA players. We know we have a small chance of winning.”
Nielson said he was hoping that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) would change the structure of Davis Cup so that players understand how it works.
“There are so many players who can’t understand the different levels of the competition, so I find myself having to explain where countries fit in the Group I and Group II tier levels, and so forth, and it’s not easily understood.”
The Nielson-Scholtz rubber will be followed by the second singles match between the Denmark No 2 Benjamin Hannestad (1 094) and SA’s No 1 Lloyd Harris (230).
The lone doubles match will be played on Saturday, and the tie concludes on Sunday when the reverse singles are played.
African News Agency (ANA)