South Africa’s road to the newly established Davis Cup Finals begins in Lisbon against Portugal on Friday in a crucial Euro/ Africa Group 1 play-off tie.
In September the International Tennis Federation (ITF) members voted to change the structure of the Davis Cup competition to lessen its impact on the playing schedules of top players.
The newly established Davis Cup Finals will take place in Madrid from November 18-24‚ 2019 following the ATP World Finals in London.
The Finals will feature 18 teams – 12 qualifiers‚ the previous year’s four semi-finalists and two wild card nations.
The 18 teams will compete in six round-robin groups of three teams.
The six group winners plus the two second-placed teams with the best records based on sets and games won will qualify for the quarterfinals.
The Davis Cup champions will be crowned after the completion of the knockout phase.
SA‚ which has slid to No 45 on the world rankings‚ would have taken years to climb back in to the elite World Group under the old system.
But the changes mean that if they beat Portugal this weekend‚ they will play a final qualifier in early February next year against either Canada or Kazakhstan.
Winning that would be one step closer to the elite tier of the competition.
“The route into the World Group will be much quicker assuming we win this tie in Portugal‚” president of the SA Tennis Association Gavin Crookes said.
“The loser between us and Portugal goes down from Euro/Africa 1‚ which would be a blow.”
Team SA will have their work cut out for them because Portugal‚ as the home team‚ have chosen to play the tie on red clay.
It’s a surface that will take some adjustment for the South Africans‚ who are spearheaded by world No 112 Lloyd Harris.
Harris will play in his seventh Davis Cup tie for SA.
Since his Davis Cup debut against Luxembourg at home at the Irene Country Club outside Pretoria in 2015‚ Harris has made impressive improvements to his game and world rankings.
With Kevin Anderson not making himself available for Davis Cup duty this week‚ the 21-year-old Harris has to lead the team.
“It’s always an honour to play for my country and each time I walk onto court in the green and gold I feel extremely proud‚” said Harris.
“I have been really confident lately on court and I’ve played a lot of matches this year. Getting a lot of wins in the last couple of months has really built my confidence up nicely.
“Two weeks back I had the biggest win of my career (he defeated Gael Monfils at Chengdu Open) and that really helps for sure. I’m just playing very good tennis at the moment.
Fellow team member Nik Scholtz jetted in to Lisbon from Cape Town late Saturday.
They were joined on Saturday by doubles ace Raven Klaasen who flew in from Shanghai where he reached the quarterfinals of the doubles at the ATP Masters with New Zealand partner‚ Michael Venus.
On Sunday captain Marcos Ondruska arrived from Seattle‚ USA. Harris and Ruan Roelofse joined the team late Monday morning from California‚ USA.
The last team member to arrive was debutant junior Philip Henning who came from Buenos Aires where he was competing in the Youth Olympics.
On Saturday‚ Cyclone Lesley hit Portugal but luckily very little damage was done to the Davis Cup venue‚ Club Internacional De Foot-Ball in the heart of Lisbon.”