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Rik: Top tier tennis vital

South Africa’s most experienced Davis Cup player, Rik de Voest, says a victory against Germany in Stuttgart this weekend would be crucial in improving the status of the sport back home. If the South Africans win at the Wiessenhof Tennis Club, they will qualify for the top tier of the team competition for the first time in 12 years.

“The South African Tennis Association has set a goal of regaining our place in the World Group, and last year we came very close,” said De Voest, a Canadian-based player who has competed in 18 Davis Cup ties since 2002.

“The quality of tennis has really improved in South Africa in the last few years, and if we qualify for the World Group we will take another big step forward.”

Doubles specialist Jeff Coetzee has been battling with a niggling hamstring injury, which could put a major dampener on South Africa’s hopes of defeating the Germans, but the team’s physiotherapists, Ashleigh Wienand and Lizanne Marais, said he was winning a race against time ┬áto partner Wesley Moodie in Saturday’s rubber.

“It’s not a serious injury, and he’s been working hard, so I’m confident he’ll be able to play,” Wienand said.

Coetzee, who at 33 is the oldest member of the team, said he was putting in twice as much effort this week to ensure his availability.

Wearing a strap around his left thigh, the veteran of 17 Davis Cup ties seemed untroubled in pairing up with Moodie in a practice match on Tuesday.

“I’m putting in a lot of work and it’s feeling better already,” he said. “It’s not healed yet, but it’s getting there.”

The three-day tie starts on Friday, and both teams have a lot to play for. While South Africa are looking to qualify for the top tier for the first time since 1998, Germany hope to remain in the World Group for the sixth year in succession. And while the hosts are favourites on the clay surface, South Africa’s youngest player, 26-year-old Izak van der Merwe, is confident they can cause an upset.

“We came here early and we’ve had some good practice sessions since Sunday,” said De Voest. “It’s not our preferred surface, but we’re certainly not going to roll over for them. This is a very important tie and we’ll give it everything we’ve got.ÔÇØ