Cape Town – Despite the encouraging advancement of 21-year-old, Cape Town-born Lloyd Harris in recent weeks, it would seem relevant not for the first time to suggest South Africa’s prospects in the vital Euro-Africa Group One Davis Cup relegation play-off against Portugal next month may well depend on whether world No 9 Kevin Anderson decides to follow the famed dictum of late American president John F. Kennedy to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
The 32-year-old Anderson, now playing the best tennis of his career, has, of course, declined to make himself available for Davis Cup action for seven years now and clearly there is no great cause for optimism that he will perform an about-turn this time, but at no time has his presence been more critical for South African tennis’s future than in this watershed encounter in Portugal in mid-October.
And South African Davis Cup captain and former playing stalwart, Marcos Ondruska, has clearly not given up hope of luring the in-form, potential ace in his pack back into national action.
“There is very little time between the tie and the period that finally determined whom we would be playing,” Ondruska said earlier this week. “We are moving quickly to get all the bits and pieces together. ITF rules allow us to nominate a team up to 10 days before the tie. I will probably announce only then, or a little before, what the team is going to be because of the narrow time window.
“Regarding Kevin,” added Ondruska, “there is constant conversation with him before and after every tie as to his potential involvement. Kevin is open to playing as long as scheduling for his long and arduous year allows, and he can maintain his move up the rankings.”
But in stark terms, South Africa will not only be relegated to the doldrums of Euro-Africa Group Two of the Davis Cup if a defeat is suffered against Portugal, but the slim outside chance of gaining a place in the innovative new 18-nation Davis Cup Finals next year will be obliterated entirely.
With Anderson, who has reached the US Open and Wimbledon finals in the past 13 months, while further distinguishing himself in what has been termed the “Show Business Tennis” encounter between teams representing “Europe” and “The Rest of the World” recently, South Africa would be strong favourites to beat Portugal.
Apart from the possible inclusion of Anderson, Harris, who this week achieved his first win on the main ATP World Tour circuit by beating the dazzling, but overly enigmatic Gael Monfils before losing a tough 7-6 (7/5), 2-6, 7-6 (8/6) second round encounter against Australian Bernard Tomic after having a match-point on serve, and the doubles pairing of Raven Klaasen and Ruan Roelofse together constitute a pretty formidable line-up.
Without the 6ft 8in, lethal serving Anderson, however, the pendulum would seem to swing in the direction of Portugal, particularly in view of their home-court advantage, with the possibility of a clay court surface adding to South Africa’s discomfort.
The Portuguese squad is expected to be headed by world 47th-ranked Joao Sousa, a particularly difficult clay court opponent if it comes to that, with three other singles players among the top 150 or so in the world.
Apart from the world’s ninth-ranked Anderson and Harris, who will be ranked in the low 120s by the ATP next week, South Africa does not have any other singles players among the world’s top 400.