Zim fight Davis Cup relegation

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Gwinyai Tongoona

BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

ZIMBABWE Davis Cup team’s non-playing captain Gwinyai Tongoona has said his players will not underestimate El Salvador when they meet the central American nation in a must-win World Group II play-off tie at Harare Sports Club starting today.

On paper, Zimbabwe will head into the relegation playoff tie as the favourites to remain in the Davis Cup World Group II as they are ranked slightly higher than their opponents on number 63, while El Salvador are four places lower on position 67.

The hosts also appear to have a stronger team with all four players having world rankings while only one El Salvador player features on the ATP world rankings.

Spain-based Benjamin Lock, who turns 29 today, is Zimbabwe’s top-ranked player with a singles and doubles ranking of 510 and 221, respectively.

El Salvador will bank on the experience of 31-year-old Marcelo Arevalo, who is ranked an impressive 25th in doubles and 664 in singles while his compatriots Lluis Miralles, Kyle Johnson and 48-year-old Yari Bernado are unranked.

However, Tongoona said his players would not read much into the rankings as they expected El Salvador to give them a good fight.

“We are expecting a tough match, obviously they have got a highly ranked number one player in doubles and he was formerly ranked quite highly in singles so it is not going to be easy. Hopefully, we can pull through and go back into a playoff for Group 1 in September. We are looking forward to it, the guys are ready we will just compete as best as we can and, hopefully, we can come up with a win,” Tongoona told NewsDay Sport in an interview.

The 47-year-old well-regarded coach, who has led the country’s Davis Cup team since December 2017, when he took over from former teammate Martin Dzuwa, believes playing in familiar conditions and in front of home fans will spur his team to success.

“The fans’ support gives us a lot of energy, we always enjoy playing at home and I am sure the players have said the same thing. We always look forward to our home ties and the conditions favour us so we are expecting to be good and hopefully we can put up a good show for the home support and get an important win for the whole nation,” he said.

In addition to the country’s number one player, Benjamin, Zimbabwe’s team also includes his young brother Courtney and the Sibanda brothers Mehluli and Ethan while the country’s former top-ranked player Takanyi Garanganga remains sidelined by injury.

The Lock brothers are expected to partner in the all-important doubles rubber on Saturday while Benjamin and Mehluli will feature in the singles which gets underway today.

“For a player like Ethan, it’s a good experience for him even if he plays or doesn’t get to play. Mehluli has played a couple of ties now so he knows what is expected and is more prepared for that now. Benjamin’s record speaks for itself, he has done well over the last few years. Courtney has done well in doubles and they have managed to win some big matches. Obviously, we will miss Takanyi, he is injured, he gets back to playing and we can have him back on the team for a few more ties,” Tongoona said of the team at his
disposal.

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