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All blacks without the Blacks

Enock Muchinjo

THE moment of truth awaits Zimbabwe tennis this weekend when the national Davis Cup team take on Serbia and Montenegro in a watershed Euro-Africa Zone first round tie in Belgrade starting toda

y.


For the first time since Zimbabwe entered the elite arena of international tennis back in the pre-independence period, the southern African nation named a squad made up entirely of black players.


The team was severely weakened when the country’s top two players, Australian Open doubles champions Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett, decided to play in the Association of Tennis Professionals tournaments in the United States taking place concurrently with the showdown in Belgrade.


Stand-in number-one player Genius Chidzikwe leads a team that comprises Gwinyai Tongoona and the United States-based duo of Zibusiso Ncube and Pfungwa Mahefu.


Prominent development coach Claudio Murape is the interim non-playing captain in the absence of regular skipper Greg Rodger, who also opted out of the match due to pressing commitments.


Zimbabwe tennis, which has for a long time been kept in the limelight by the Black siblings and Ullyett, is hard-pressed to prove there is life after Byron and Wayne and Ullyett. The fringe players will be out to prove their worth against a Serbia and Montenegro team that could have given little trouble to a full-strength Zimbabwe outfit.


The country’s tennis governing body, Tennis Zimbabwe, has come under criticism for failing to produce good players to take over from the current first team.


Defeat for Zimbabwe in Belgrade will almost condemn the country to the periphery of the top world tennis competition, as Black and Ulyett are nearing the twilight of their careers.


If Zimbabwe manage to sail past the East Europeans, they will engage Belgium in the second round in April, with the winner earning a return to the prestigious Davis Cup World Group. Defeat will see the Zimbabweans facing the winner between Great Britain and Israel in a relegation play-off encounter.


The draw for this weekend’s encounter, conducted yesterday, could not be obtained at the time of going to press.


Serbia and Montenegro carry the favourites’ tag against a depleted Zimbabwe side whose players are ranked lower than those in the home team on the ATP tour singles rankings. Their number one seed, 20-year-old Janko Tipsarevic is ranked in the top 100 (number 84), while their second seed, Novak Djokovic, is number 134.

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