(September 18, 2021) FOREST HILLS, QUEENS, New York – Davis Cup returned to Forest Hills on Saturday as South Africa plays host to Venezuela over the weekend at the former home of the U.S. Open – the West Side Tennis Club. The historic club hosted the New York City major from 1923 – 1977 before it moved to a public facility in Flushing Meadows in 1978.
The last time that the club welcomed a Davis Cup tie it was in 1959 when the United States hosted Australia in the final.
The last time Davis Cup was played in the New York City area was the 1981 USA vs. Czechoslovakia Davis Cup quarterfinal at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
South Africa took a commanding 2-0 lead on day one of the tie. In the opening match in Saturday action, World No. 31, Lloyd Harris gave South Africa a quick 1-0 lead when he dismissed Venezuela’s Brandon Perez, 21, ranked 1921, 6-0, 6-0 in 37 minutes. The 24-year-old Harris lost only 12 points during the match.
“I think it’s a very unique situation, playing a tie between South Africa and Venezuela in New York, but I think it’s pretty cool,” said Harris after his match. “I think it worked out well for me since I’ve been here.”
“I think I’ve had some nice momentum in New York and obviously, I was able to keep that momentum going today and played a really solid match.”
Harris, who was unseeded knocked out three seeds en route to the US Open quarterfinals including No. 25 Karen Khachanov in the first round, No. 7 Denis Shapovalov, in the third round and No. 22 Reilly Opelka in the round of 16.
In a much more competitive contest, Philip Henning stopped Ricardo Rodriguez-Pace 6-4, 6-4 in the second rubber of the day to give South Africa a 2-0 lead.
This was 20-year-old Henning’s first live Davis Cup rubber victory.
“It’s a great honor for me representing my country,” said Henning. “Especially at a place like this. We love our sport, and this place is one of the places with the most history for tennis. A lot of big names played on this court.”
He admitted to nerves in the beginning of the match, but made the adjustment and found his “rhythm.”
Henning, who plays tennis for the University of Georgia talked about playing college tennis. “I think that college tennis is a great place to be. I feel that you improve as a person in different aspects of your life while focusing on tennis. College tennis is really competitive.”
“It definitely improves you game and makes you ready for the high pressure moments in pro tennis and at the same time studying. It kind of covers all areas.”
The momentum of the match changed when I could not hold (serve) after breaking,” said Rodriguez-Pace. “I felt like I played decent tennis, honestly I needed to be a little bit more precise on the important points.”
“That’s a solid performance for him,” he said of Henning.
“It’s always special, “ said the 28-year-old Rodriguez-Pace of team Venezuela. “As a player you are always dreaming about playing in the storied venues and the important sites, in the most famous stadiums and arenas all over the world. This is one of them.”
“Even though I lost I still feel proud, I still feel lucky to be here.’
“This is an incredible venue, so much history, so much I learned about this venue in history over the last few days,” said Harris. “I’m obviously very, very honored to be playing and in a special place.”
In a set of unusual circumstances, South Africa is serving as the “home” nation in this tie on neutral ground. Venezuela has been excluded from hosting home ties in their country due to both travel and political concerns.
Initially the tie was supposed have paying spectators with ticket going on sale back in August. However, it’s been reported that South Africa did not want to pay production costs. Only 200 invitees are allowed in each day to watch the matches.
The best-of-five match series continues on Sunday with a doubles rubber scheduled first , followed by reverse singles. The inner of the tie advances to the David cup world Group I play-offs in 2022.
Karen Pestaina is the woman behind Tennis Panorama News. She freelances for various media outlets in and out of tennis and has worked for many a broadcast news entity in the New York City market. She witnessed her first live tennis match as a young child at Forest Hills Stadium when Guillermo Vilas upset Jimmy Connors to win the 1977 US Open.