“News from the Slovenian camp is that the world’s 74th ranked Grega Zemlja is carrying an injury,” South African team captain John-Laffnie de Jager said on Thursday. South African stalwart Rik de Voest will open the tie against Slovenia’s inexperienced, 22-year-old Blaz Rola.
“He (Zemlja) has been included for Saturday’s doubles match and, he could still be brought back to play in the final singles match on Sunday,” De Jager said. “But the surprise move from the Slovenians is an encouraging boost for us to produce what would be a memorable victory.”
With a world ranking of 162nd against Rola’s 208th and a wealth of experience of Davis Cup competition, De Voest now has an inviting opportunity of starting South Africa off on the right foot. The second singles match on Friday features South Africa’s Ruan Roelofse, ranked 524th in the world, against Slovenia’s seasoned Blaz Kavcic with a 105th world ranking.
There would appear every chance of South Africa finishing the opening day on level terms, with Raven Klassen partnering with Roelofse against the Slovenian pair of Zemlja and Janez Semrajc. The South African camp believed the Slovenians were gambling on at least holding them to a 2-2 margin going into Sunday’s final singles match and then recalling Zemlja as a trump card.
However, as matters were released at Thursday’s draw, Rola was down to face Roelofse in the potential decider. Standing by as South Africa’s fourth squad member is Nikala Scholtz, who De Jager preferred to Dean O’Brien as a possible singles and doubles replacement.
“I based my final decisions on how the players performed in practice and it was a last-minute-choice,” De Jager said. “There was little separating Roelofse, Scholz and O’Brien, with all three desperately keen to play.”
The loser of the tie in Slovenia will face a serious threat of relegation to next year’s Euro-Africa Group Two segment of the Davis Cup, coming up against a powerful Russian combination in the decider next month.
The deciding factor in what now appears two reasonably well-balanced teams is how the South Africans will cope on what is expected to be an ultra-slow clay surface.
Singles: Blaz Rola (Slovenia) v Rik de Voest (South Africa)
Blaz Kavcic (Slovenia) v Ruan Roelofse (South Africa)
Doubles: Grega Zemlja and Janez Semrajc (Slovernia) v Raven Klassen and Ruan Roelofse (South Africa).
Singles: Blaz Kavcic (Slovenia) v Rik de Voest( South Africa)
Blaz Rola (Slovenia) v Ruan Roelofse (South Africa).