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German skipper praises SA

Despite the hosts entering the tie as the odds-on favourites, Germany’s non-playing captain Patrik Kuehnen said on Thursday he expected a strong challenge from South Africa in the Davis Cup World Group tennis play-off in Stuttgart this weekend.

ÔÇ£South Africa have the same goal as us, to play in the World Group next year,ÔÇØ Kuehnen said after the draw for the three-day tie starting on Friday. ÔÇ£They will be highly motivated and they have come here to put up a challenge. We have home ground advantage, and we might be the favourites, but they have an experienced team and they have nothing to lose.ÔÇØ

The South Africans last defeated Germany in a Davis Cup tie in Berlin in 1962, and the hosts have come up trumps the last four times the nations have met in the men’s team competition. The Germans are better suited to the slow clay surface, have played in the World Group for the last five years in succession, and will have the added advantage of playing at home.

Both of Germany’s singles players, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer, are ranked among the top 45 in the world, while neither of South Africa’s singles specialists, Izak van der Merwe and Rik de Voest, are rated among the top 150 by the ATP.

But De Voest in particular has shown superb recent form, stretching Argentinian David Nalbandian to five sets in a cracking first round match at the US Open two weeks ago. And if the visitors can raise their game, a surprise is on the cards. ÔÇ£We’ve had some really good practice sessions this week, and we’re looking forward to this tie,ÔÇØ said Van der Merwe. ÔÇ£We just want to get on with it now.ÔÇØ

However, South Africa’s doubles players, Wesley Moodie and Jeff Coetzee, who are both ranked among the top 100 in the world, hold the key for the tourists.

If Coetzee can overcome a niggling hamstring injury, they will be favoured to pick up a point against the German pairing of Christopher Kas and Andreas Beck in Saturday’s doubles rubber. The South Africans, if nothing else, are far more experienced in Davis Cup competition, and have a tremendous determination that has shone through in their practice sessions throughout the week.

ÔÇ£We have a well balanced team with some really good doubles players,ÔÇØ said South Africa’s non-playing captain, John-Laffnie de Jager. ÔÇ£This weekend is going to be a challenge, but we are ready for it.ÔÇØ

De Voest faces Kohlschreiber in Friday’s opening match, and Van der Merwe takes on Mayer, who returns to Davis Cup action after a two-year absence due to injury, in the second singles rubber. The reverse singles will be played on Sunday.

If South Africa win, they will qualify for the prestigious World  Group for the first time in 12 years.