POTCHEFSTROOM, SOUTH ARICA: Warm but breezy conditions prevailed in Potchefstroom, South Africa, on Thursday, when the draw for the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas play-off tie between South Africa and Croatia was held.
Izak van der Merwe was the surprise choice as South Africa's No. 2, especially since it was widely anticipated that the combative Rik de Voest would be Kevin Anderson's partner in the singles matches, starting on Friday, when hot, sweltering weather is expected.
Andrew Jarrett, who presided over the draw, announced the singles and doubles line-ups. He has been the tournament referee of The Championships, at Wimbledon, since June 2006.
Usually, De Voest is ranked higher than Van der Merwe on the world rankings, which more often than not, is used to select the team line-up. However, ranking changes in the past few days have seen Van der Merwe slot in at No. 128 and De Voest slide down to No. 133, but De Jager insisted that his call was not based on the latest rankings.
"We're up against big servers, and Izak has the bigger serve of the two, and that's why I went with him instead," said De Jager. "Izak has had a good year so far, whereas Rik has just come off an injury and he'll need more time to get back to peak condition. "I've done what I considered to be the best way forward for the country."
Anderson, ranked world No. 34, will start off the singles play on both days, and he was pleased that he doesn't have to sit around waiting to play. "The draw has been good because I enjoy playing first, and that way I can help to give the country a good start," he said. "It's going to be a real tough challenge and when you look at their players' rankings, you can see what we're up against."
Anderson will play with De Voest in the doubles, and De Jager felt the pairing did well against the Dutch at the same venue a few weeks ago.
"I don't want to say they surprised me, but they really played well and got the important point for us," said de Jager. "Rik is the most experienced doubles player in the team, so it's key for us to have him there.
"As for Kevin, it would be stupid to keep him off the court with him playing so well at the moment and we have to make use of it. They're a good team, and the fact that they played so well together last time is a bonus for us."
As expected, Croatia named Marin Cilic (world No. 26) as their No. 1, and Ivan Dodig (world No. 37) the No 2.
However, they named the lesser-named Nikola Mektic and Antonio Veic as their doubles combination but at the media conference afterwards, Croatia captain Goran Prpic was quick to point out that changes may be made an hour before the start of the match.
Prpic said the team had settled in as well as they can, and were confident going into the tie.
"We've had a few days to get used to the conditions, and we're going to play our best tennis," said Prpic. "There's great pressure on both teams and we'll see how that pressure plays itself out."
Croatia were Davis Cup champions in 2005, when they defeated Slovakia in the final at the Sibamac Arena, Bratislava, Slovakia. In the process they became only the second unseeded nation to win the final.
Presently Croatia's team is world-ranked 12th, while South Africa is at 22 on the Davis Cup standings. The outcome of the tie, will decide who plays in the elite World Group of Davis Cup in 2012.
After the doubles match on Saturday the reverse singles will be played on Sunday, starting at 10am.
R1: Kevin Anderson (RSA) v Ivan Dodig (CRO)
R2: Izak Van Der Merwe (RSA) v Marin Cilic (CRO)
R3: Kevin Anderson / Rik De Voest (RSA) v Antonio Veic / Nikola Mektic (CRO)
R4: Kevin Anderson (RSA) v Marin Cilic (CRO)
R5: Izak Van Der Merwe (RSA) v Ivan Dodig (CRO)
Live scores and live streaming of this tie will be available on the Davis Cup website, and live radio commentary of the World Group semifinals will also be broadcast.