Firm favourites Germany will launch their bid to retain their place in the World Group of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas with top player Philipp Kohlschreiber facing South Africa’s Rik de Voest in the opening singles rubber on Friday.
That will be followed by Florian Mayer against Izak van der Merwe, after which – in the minds of many – the hosts should be comfortably on their way to victory.
And yet, despite having home-court advantage, on a surface which favours the German players and with a team boasting more quality, it’s been hard to find anyone within the home camp openly predicting a walk-over.
As Germany’s team captain, Patrik Kuhnen, admitted: “This is Davis Cup. Anything can happen.”
Kuhnen is a veteran of this event, and a three-times winner. He was part of the West German and then German sides which lifted the Davis Cup in 1988, 1989 and 1993.
“I can still recall my emotions after winning (the Davis Cup),” Kuhnen added. “It has certainly been the highlight of my career. And my players of 2010 are aware of our history and can’t wait to get started.”
South Africa relish underdog tag
The tie is being played on the outdoor clay-courts at TC Weissenhof Stuttgart, and whilst the draw took place under a cloudless sky, the forecast for the next few days is not as bright.
For South Africa, the challenge is apparent. Their highest-ranked player, Kevin Anderson, was forced to pull out last week due to a foot injury, which team captain John-Laffnie de Jager conceded was a bitter blow.
But Germany beware. According to de Jager, the visitors are in Stuttgart to spoil the party. “Anyone who underestimates us will be making a big mistake,” he warned.
South Africa reached this stage with a convincing 5-0 victory over Finland earlier in the year, and de Jager admits they enjoy punching above their weight.
He said: “In the last two years, we’ve put ourselves in a position to play for the World Group with singles guys who are ranked 220 and lower. If you look at the rankings, then we should not be close to getting to the World Group, but these guys raise their game when playing for South Africa.”
De Voest may be a late replacement for the injured Anderson, but he has left nothing to chance. Fresh from taking David Nalbandian to five sets on the hard-courts of Flushing Meadows, the 30 year-old gained some much-needed practice on clay by competing in a Challenger event last week.
Kohlschreiber takes nothing for granted
Kohlschreiber, though the top ranked player here in Stuttgart, is wary of the threat of the underdogs: “We know that we are favourites, but we have enough knowledge that in sport, everything has to be played and South Africa are here to win.”
He relishes the opportunity to represent his country, but with that comes an unfamiliar kind of pressure: “It’s a different kind of tension. You play for your team-mates, and the people coming to watch will be here to support Germany not Philipp Kohlschreiber.”
The Germans are in this position, fighting for their place in the 2011 World Group, after slipping to a 4-1 defeat to France in March. Defeat in Stuttgart is unthinkable for this proud tennis nation.
Friday’s reverse singles rubber involves Florian Mayer against Izak van der Merwe. The doubles on Saturday will bring together local lad Andreas Beck with Christopher Kas, against Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee.
The full draw is listed below.
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) v Rik de Voest (RSA)
Florian Mayer (GER) v Izak van der Merwe (RSA)
Andreas Beck / Christopher Kas (GER) v Jeff Coetzee / Wesley Moodie (RSA)
Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) v Izak van der Merwe (RSA)
Florian Mayer (GER) v Rik de Voest (RSA)