Davis Cup Groups II and III Review: Ireland relegated but joy for former champs
The South African team celebrates their clean sweep over the Irish (Photo via : http://thesportseagle.co.za/tag/davis-cup/)

While most of our attention has rightly gone to Team Great Britain's spellbinding run in their bid to secure the trophy for the first time since 1936, to not look back upon another excellent year in the competition's illustrious history would be doing every other nation a disservice.

It is true, the World Group often steals much of the world's media spotlight, but the incredible pyramid of the competition has produced some truly excellent tennis in 2015.

From our nearest neighbours Ireland being battered in South Africa as they fall to the depths of Group III with the likes of San Marino, to Hungary's rise to Group I as they upset Bulgaria, there have been some stunning results within the European and African Zones of the Davis Cup.

Ireland fall from Group II but Norway and Georgia escape

Ireland are not a nation known for their tennis history and as they were swept aside with ease by South Africa the halcyon days of their 1983 World Group Playoffs seem further away than ever. Turning up at the Irene Country Club for an away tie, the Irish, whose highest ranked player in James McGee has never broken the top 100, may have fancied their chances as the South African team lined up without their most illustrious player in Kevin Anderson.

But to the loss of only two sets across the whole weekend, the Africans produced a performance well above the class of the Irish to send their beleagured opponents to the depths of Group III for the first time since 2007. The South African team, whose squad contained no players within the top 500, used the conditions to their advantage. The winners back in 1974, they will be hoping for brighter fortunes when they play Luxembourg in 2016 in what is sure to be at tight affair.

However, the defeat for Ireland, who will be joined in Group III by Morocco, Moldova and Madagascar, meant joy for four other nations who managed to escape the clutches of Group III and secure their place in greener pastures.

In Group III, where Europe and Africa are split into two separate groups, thirteen teams make up the European section and they are split into four groups. The group winners then contest a playoff with the two winners securing promotion.

Oystein Sterio was one of the Norwegian heroes
Oystein Sterio was one of the Norwegian heroes (Source :http://www.goheels.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=207329009)

Although it may contain Europe's usual whipping boys in the likes of San Marino and Liechtenstein - neither won a tie in their groups - but in eventual winners Norway and Georgia it contained two nations with some modest Davis Cup credentials. Norway perviously contested the World Group Playoffs in 1995 whereas Georgia played in Group I as recently as 2008.

After both topping their groups with room to spare, the teams contested playoff matches against Cyprus and Estonia in a best of three shootout. Norway, despite playing against a Cypriot team containing Marcos Baghdatis won 2-0 whilst Georgia swatted aside Estonia by the same score.

Tunisia and Egypt won in the African section of Group III, beating Benin and Namibia respectively.

Luxembourg stuck in limbo as Hungary complete dream rise

In seems bizarre to say but not so long ago Team GB were facing off against Luxembourg in Glasgow as both teams strived to make it into Group I. As we all know, GB have gone from strength to strength and despite a minor slip up last year against the Italians, they head to Belgium for the Davis Cup final.

Luxembourg meanwhile remain stuck in Group II having flirted on and off with relegation to Group III in 2012 and 2013. But this year things looked like they could have been very different after they defeated Madagascar in a five-tie thriller to reach the quarter finals for the second year running. However, a Grigor Dimitrov inspired Bulgarian side were able to easily swat aside the challenge of the Gilles Muller-less Luxembourgers as they romped to a 5-0 win ensuring a shot at Group I.

Bulgaria would be up against a rejuvinated Hungarian side, one who found themselves in Group III as recently as 2014 after losing in a relegation playoff to Luxembourg in the 2013 tournament. Many would have expected Bulgaria with home advantage to secure their place in Group I for the first time since 1988. Yet, bereft of Dimitrov, the Bulgarians were upset by Hungary who battled to a 3-2 win after taking both of the opening day singles matches. It completed the comeback for Hungary who spent 2014 in Group III swatting aside the likes of Liechtenstein and Armenia and have now secured back-to-back promotions.

Joining them in Group I in 2016 will be Portugal, who defeated Belarus in Viana Do Castelo in a thriller. After their highest ranked player Joao Sousa surprisingly lost the first match, the Portuguese spun off three wins on the trot with Sousa the eventual hero by winning his second singles match to secure a 3-1 win - the Belarusians won the dead rubber.

And with that the 2015 Davis Cup Groups II and III were complete and whilst some were overjoyed, others must immediately turn to the drawing board as they wish to improve upon an awful year. The rise of Hungary is astonishing, South Africa produced the goods when it mattered and Georgia and Norway earned their place amongst Group II.

Stay tuned to VAVEL over the next few weeks for all of our build up to the huge Davis Cup final as GB take on Belgium. We'll be bringing you more reviews of all the action, more previews and more indepth discussion.

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