South Africa faces Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group II relegation after going down 3-2 to Turkey in Mersin. Going into this weekend’s tie with Turkey, South African Davis Cup Captain Earl Grainger always said both teams had a 50/50 chance. Grainger also said that playing Turkey away would be a challenge and with the Turks having a world number 77 ranked player in Marsel Ilhan his charges would have to pull out all the stops to have a chance of winning away from home. But in a heartbreaking weekend of tennis for South Africa it was a matter of being so close yet so far and Turkey pipped South Africa 3-2 to stand a chance of promotion to Group 1.
South Africa started Sunday 2-1 ahead thanks to a hard fought five set doubles win on Saturday by Raven Klaasen and Ruan Roelofse. On Friday South Africa and Turkey shared the spoils with each team winning a singles rubber. In the opening reverse singles rubber on Sunday, the number one players did battle. Ilhan came out against South Africa’s Fritz Wolmarans.
Despite Wolmarans being ranked some 387 places lower than Ilhan on the world rankings Wolmarans did himself and South Africa proud extending the top 100 ranked Turk to five grueling sets. Ilhan needed over four hours to beat Wolmarans 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 4-6, 8-6 in a titanic battle. After losing the first two sets in a quick 70 minutes, Wolmarans came from break down in the third set to force the set into the tiebreaker which he won.
In the fourth set, Wolmarans was broken in the second game but promptly broke back and with added confidence found the second break in the tenth game to win the set 6-4 and level the rubber at two sets all. In the decider Wolmarans dug deep to save three match points at 4-5 down and held on until Ilhan broke the strong Wolmarans serve in the fourteenth game to win the rubber and take the tie to a 2-2 score line. Grainger then replaced his originally nominated number two player Tucker Vorster with Ruan Roelofse (pictured) for the deciding singles rubber.
Grainger said: ‘Tucker suffered a lower back strain in his singles on Friday and we decided it was just too risky for Tucker to come out and play a decider.’ But like Wolmarans, Roelofse did himself and his country proud. Roelofse fought from start to finish, battled not only Cem Ilkel his opponent but a partisan, rowdy Turkish crowd and suspect line calls and chair umpire.
It was another epic battle of well over three hours which the Turkish number two eventually won 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-4 which gave the home team the 3-2 win over the visitors. South Africa now will play against Ireland in July in South Africa in a relegation match. South Africa will need to beat Ireland to remain in Euro Africa Group 2 for 2016. The loser will drop to Euro Africa Group 3.
Grainger said: ‘Obviously we are hugely disappointed in not having won. But I could not have asked for a better effort from my team. We were so, so close on winning the tie but it wasn’t to be. I feel we can take a lot of positives from the weekend in Turkey and we will soldier on and prepare for our tie in July with a positive mindset.’
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott