SA Davis Cup captain revels in the excitement of grand slam proportions
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CAPE TOWN - CHRISTO van Rensburg, once the poster boy of South African tennis, was like a kid in a candy store after guiding his Davis Cup charges to a 4-0 whitewash over Venezuela in New York this weekend.
The 58-year-old Van Rensburg made his debut as the SA Davis Cup captain. When it ended after two days, he was overwhelmed with the team’s performance at the historic 14 000-seater Forest Hills Stadium, located at The West Side Tennis Club, New York.
During the 1980s and early 90s, Van Rensburg was one of the standout performers on the world tour and reached a career-high No 19 on the world singles ranking in 1988. He is also a grand slam doubles winner and a former No 2 in world doubles.
Over the past few days, the affable Van Rensburg attracted a fair bit of attention on social media. Many former players and tennis contacts from around the world penned comments to laud his appointment as the mentor of the SA team. Many addressed him by his nickname ‘Houti’.
Tennis SA very smartly opted to stage their home tie in New York rather than Cape Town since some of the team members and supporting staff were already in New York after the US Open. Others, like Van Rensburg, are based in the US. It was a huge cost-saving measure for TSA since the loss of spectator income meant it could not help offset the costs of staging the tie-on home soil.
Opponents Venezuela readily agreed to the switch. The travelling time to New York, rather than SA, was cut drastically, and was around 20 hours less.
SA’s World Group II win over Venezuela meant automatic promotion to the World Group I playoffs in 2022. For Van Rensburg, it was mission accomplished.
At the press conference afterwards, Van Rensburg could not hide his excitement. At times he was choked up with emotions as he shared the experience of being a new Davis Cup captain.
“Well, I’m very excited to see how the boys perform, and being on the change-over and getting to share information, and then to watch them go and execute it,” Van Rensburg said.
“Having a player like Lloyd (Harris) on your team, you can see it raised the whole level of my team because they have been practising the whole week.
“So being able to practice with someone that’s got such high confidence like Lloyd, and people get to practice with him, that is priceless.”
Van Rensburg said that since the tie was played in New York, players were able to arrive early. It afforded him more time to work individually with players.
“It was great to see that when we found out what each player’s weapons were,” he said.
“We could focus on that, and we kept telling ourselves the things we do well, we’re going to keep doing as well as we can.
“The biggest challenge was that we had to really dig deep and think hard about how and where are we going to find our extra point (after taking a 2-0 lead)?
“I’m sure they looked at Lloyd Harris, and that point they ticked it off for us. Then we had to find out where we can get that extra point that can swing a tie.
“Fortunately for us, we had Phillip Henning from Georgia. He already played a dead rubber before.
“He arrived a week ago already. I could spend a lot of time with him and saw what he likes to do. We just focused on that the whole match, and he played beautifully yesterday.
#TeamSA does it! 🙌 🇿🇦— Tennis South Africa (@TennisSA) September 19, 2021
Team South Africa is through to the @DavisCup World Group I promotion playoffs taking an unassailable 3-0 lead over Venezuela.
🇿🇦 Klaasen / Harris beat 🇻🇪 Marrtinez / Badra 6-2, 6-4.#DavisCup pic.twitter.com/oq7JuGwAcT
“It takes a lot of talking on the change-over when you think doubt creeps in. Luckily, I had really good coaches around me for a lot of years on tour. I could share that knowledge with my players.
“Then to get Ruan (Roelofse) back in (for a singles match), after he was disappointed not being able to play in the doubles. He has been amazing. He’s has played a long time for South Africa and only ever lost one doubles Davis Cup match.
“He came in and played singles. I know what he does, and I always wanted to be on the court when he plays a match. I could tell him how we could get him back on track and improve his (singles) ranking.
“So that was a very moment for me, even though it was a dead rubber. I don’t get to spend time with these guys, and this was my first week with them. So, you have to quickly find out what everyone is doing well.”
Van Rensburg only ever played one Davis Cup match. During his career, SA were subjected to sporting isolation during apartheid.
“For me, the Davis Cup has always been very precious,” said Van Rensburg. “Because of the South African system of apartheid, we could never play the Olympics or Davis Cup.
“Once apartheid was gone, we returned to international sport. I got to play one Davis Cup tie, and that was in Tunisia in the lowest Davis Cup group. So that was very special for me to play the first point, win the first point, win the first game, win the first set and the first match after isolation.”
Van Rensburg was full of praise for Harris who spearheaded the 4-0 shut-out.
“Lloyd is this amazing guy. I never knew him before I came here,” said Van Rensburg. “It was special for me to have a match like that at the beginning of the tie.
“Then the new kid (Henning) came along. They probably reckoned that was going to be their (Venezuela’s) point. We were going to go in and fight for it. He stepped up and I felt so proud for him, He’s still a kid, still at college.”
Several tennis reporters questioned the decision to play Harris in the doubles tie at the expense of Roelofse.
“I think I made the decision after Lloyd had a very easy first match, not taking away from his opponent,” said Van Rensburg.
“You can see that Lloyd has lots of confidence and he is winning easy. You have to put him in as many times and hope by giving him two matches he brings me one more point.
“Lloyd loves (the) Davis Cup and has made it public that he wants to take a South African team to the World Group.
“I think we were the defending champions in 1972 after India wouldn’t play and we won by default.
“Playing Harris in the doubles was the easiest call. When I told him he was up for it and that was great.”