ZIMBABWE’s Davis Cup tennis team has defined what a team must be, and their legacy shall be felt. Their achievements in the past decade have been formidable, but the team’s greatest feat is no
t that they have won the Davis Cup – they have not even reached as far as the semi-final stage.
Rather, it is the story of how two young men were groomed from a humble selection-base to become world-class professional sportsmen, how the same men were trained to subjugate themselves to the greater good and how, in putting themselves at the service of their sport and country, they themselves became renowned.
To understand fully how the Davis Cup team has applied themselves over the past eight years, one needs to rewind to 1998 in Australia, when the Byron and Wayne Black combination made the world stand up and notice when they, in astounding fashion, stunned the Aussies 3-2 in front of a dumbfounded home crowd in Mildura.
In that tie, the Zimbabweans had trailed the home side 2-1 after losing at the mainstay of their game, the doubles, but the Blacks came back with guns blazing and snatched both the reverse singles on the final day.
Even now, it is hard to believe that it was for real, this valiant victory over the might of Australia, starring great names such as Pat Rafter and the doubles specialists, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge.
A lot has happened since that win in Australia – the men from down under came here and won quite comfortably, and Zimbabwe have won and lost other ties as well.
Deservedly, the Davis Cup team has been labelled Zimbabwe’s best-performing team in years.
This afternoon Zimbabwe meet Israel in a Euro-Africa Zone group one match at Harare’s City Sports Centre. The last time the two sides met, Israel whitewashed a heavily depleted Zimbabwe side 5-0 in Tel Aviv.
Zimbabwe must win this encounter if they are to avoid relegation to the unfashionable group two.
Besides searching for an outright win that will guarantee them a place in the World Group play-offs, the players will need to maintain the team’s proud fighting sprit.
Genius Chidzikwe was not there in Mildura in 1998, and although he has been an understudy for more than five years, he is only starting to be a regular feature in the Zimbabwe line-up. Firmly fixed in the mind of the Mutare-born new Zimbabwe number one player is the reality that he has to live up to be a true genius and start staking his worth in the team, and it means raising his game to match the standards set by the Black brothers and Kevin Ullyett.
Chidzikwe views this new responsibility as positive pressure.
“It’s good to have that benchmark. It inspires guys like me and Gwinyai (Tongoona, the other member of the team),” Chidzikwe said. “I have been in the team for some time, but I’m only starting to get a more active role as far as results are concerned.
“When I was growing up my dream was always to play Davis Cup for my country. I want to have a positive impact on tennis in Zimbabwe. I would not want to retire with Zimbabwe in Group 10. I want to get stronger and stronger and it has to start with this tie.
“We have a mixture of the old school and the new school and the new captain Claudio Murape is trying to familiarise and trying to blend. Everyone is positive about the tie.”
Black, US Open doubles semi-finalist with compatriot Kevin Ullyett last month, was also full of optimism.
“I’m feeling good. I have not played singles for a while but I’ve been playing well with Genius in training,” Black said. “I’m used to the conditions and it will give me an advantage. We just have to prepare the way we used to do it and play the same way. Plus we have the home crowd advantage. It gives us extra adrenalin.”
Non-playing captain Murape downplayed fears that the task of leading the side in a tough Davis Cup tie might be too great for him, saying his role was only advisory, and his job is made easier by that the fact that his players are professionals who know what is expected of them.