By Adrian Chikondi
Zimbabwe beat Syria 3-1 in a World Group II Davis Cup playoff match at Harare Sports Club this afternoon, paving the way to remain in World Group II.
Benjamin Lock beat Syrian top seed Hazem Naw 6-4, 6-4 after teaming up with his brother Courtney to win the doubles earlier in the day.
On Friday, Zimbabwe had got off to a losing start with Naw beating Takanyi Garanganga 63 6-3 before Benjamin Lock beat Amer Naow 6-3 6-3 to leave the tie level. Ziimbabwe got to host the tie after the organisers deemed Syria unfit to host due to security concerns.
While the host nation was celebrating the victory, this tie shows how far the host nation have fallen down the sport’s rankings.
In 1998, the Zimbabwean team that featured the Black brother, Byron and Wayne, competed in the quarter-finals of the World Group and was considered one of the toughest teams to beat.
When Takanyi Garanganga stepped on the court against Naw, the host national was ranked 64th in the Davis Cup, behind such nations as Kenya, Lebanon, Pakistan, Guatemala.
Zimbabwe is sliding down the rankings, having been ranked 61st last time out.
Former player Gwinyai Tongoona captains the Zimbabwe team of Garanganga, the Lock and the Sibanda brothers Mehluli and Ethan. The brothers follow a rich tradition of siblings playing Davis Cup for Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe were once a Davis Cup powerhouse and spent three seasons in the elite World Group before the retirement of the Black brothers and Kevin Ullyet.
Successive teams have struggled to match these performances and the sport has slowly slid back into a minority sport. At the peak of the sport’s popularity a growing number of young people were taking up the sport and it was being played on the streets in the high density areas.
This weekend’s encounter slipped under the radar. There was a time when the matches would be hyped for weeks beforehand, and one encounter at the City Sports Stadium famously featured former First Lady Grace Mugabe dancing and singing with the fans as the Wayne Black took another victory. The beating drums became an international news favourite, previously unheard of at a tennis match.
After this tie, Zimbabwe still holds a positive record in Davis Cup, having won 52 and lost 47.
The most famous Davis Cup moment, no doubt, was the shock victory over a fancied Australia in Mildura, Australia as Zimbabwe played in the World Group for the first time in April 1998.
The New York Times captured it as follows:
“It was a Black weekend for Australia on its own precious grass, a bright weekend for Germany indoors and a very long weekend in Brussels and the Georgia Hills.
Men’s professional tennis has begun to bear a resemblance to a well-funded game of chance, but the Davis Cup has been unpredictable since the competition began nearly a century ago.
This first round was no exception. The biggest wonder occurred down under, where Zimbabwe, or more accurately the Black brothers, Byron and Wayne, outplayed the favored Australians on Sunday to win, 3-2, and earn a trip to Italy in July for the second round.
“I will remember this for the rest of my life,” said Byron Black, who beat Jason Stoltenberg, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the final rubber. “Winning it with my brother, too, is pretty unbelievable.”
Garanganga and his team have a lot of ground to make up.
A victory over the 72nd ranked Syria will keep Zimbabwe in Group II. The loser of this tie will move into Group III which is a much less lucrative circuit. – Zimbabwe Voice
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