Davis Cup crunch

Ndamu Sandu

ZIMBABWE’S Davis Cup team take another bite at the cherry to reclaim lost pride when they host Italy in next week’s crunch Euro Africa Group One third round tennis play-off at the City Sports Cen

tre in Harare.


Defeat to Italy in the September 19-21 tie which is highly probable if form book is anything to go by, would sound a death knell for the team whose performance in the past year has been on a slide.


It is a tie Zimbabwe cannot afford to lose as any slip-up would condemn the team into the unfashionable Group Two.


A win would boost the team’s ascendancy into the elite Group of 16.

Inconsistency has dogged the Zimbabwean team in the past year and they are under pressure to rise to the occasion in next week’s match.


Since losing 1-4 to Belgium at the City Sports Centre in September last year, Zimbabwe’s performance has been in freefall culminating in a 0-5 drubbing by Israel in Tel Aviv three months ago.


The loss in Tel Aviv left the team’s chances of making a comeback in the tournament on a knife-edge.


However, morale in the Zimbabwean camp is sky-high with the availability of local “Woodies”, Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett.


The duo missed the tie in Israel and Zimbabwe suffered a humiliating defeat.


Wayne and Ullyett have a mission to build confidence in the team and restore past glories.


Zimbabweans expect the pair to breeze past the Italian team led by 22-year-old Filipo Volandri.


Volandri has under his belt the Cagliari Open in Italy.

Other members include Davide Sanguinette, Giorgio Galimberti and Massimo Bertlini.


However, history is against Zimbabwe.

Last year a Belgian team under the leadership of 22-year-old Xavier Malisse crushed Zimbabwe 4-1 at the City Sports Centre.


Wayne and Ullyett have inspiration from the Flushing Meadows feat of September 1998.


With odds stacked heavily against them, Wayne and Ullyett floored favourites and second seeds Don Johnson and Jared Palmer to win the US doubles final.


Top seed Wayne has had brushes with top drawer players, notably Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in the Mildura lawn courts class act of 1998.


Written off as underdogs, Byron and Wayne produced a giant-killing act worth for the video library and helped Zimbabwe beat highly-fancied Australia who have 26 Davis Cup trophies in their cabinet.


Other members of the Zimbabwean team against Italy are Genius Chidzikwe and nearly forgotten player Gwinyai Tongoona.


Chidzikwe, a veteran of dead rubbers, is not new to the Davis Cup having led Zimbabwe in the searing heat of Tel Aviv in June.


Tongoona was the first black player to represent Zimbabwe in a Davis Cup tie nine years ago.


The player was only drafted into the team in March this year after the retirement of Zimbabwe tennis’ El Matador, Byron Black.