Story-ideas-1011172

Israel lick wounds after shock Davis Cup loss

  • 1-Milner Jack
Hindsight is 20/20 vision, they say but it is often fun looking at what is said prior to a sporting event and then what is said once the curtain has fallen - and reality has set in.
by JACK MILNER | Mar 09, 2016

A few years ago Israel had a dream run in the Davis Cup tennis competition, reaching the semi-finals before going down to a Spanish team comprising Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer. The tie was played in Spain, which made it almost impossible for Israel to win and it came as no surprise when they failed to win a match.

Since then, considering the level of their players, Israel has dropped out of the World Group but has done well to stay in the Euro/Africa Zone, Group 1. The last time it played in the World Group was in 2013 but lost 5-0 to France in the opening round and was relegated. The Israelis certainly have performed better than their South African counterparts with the country languishing in Group 2 for a number of years now.

This past weekend Israel travelled to Hungary to play the first round encounter and although it played away and on clay, the team remained confident of putting up a good performance. A win would see them remain in Group 1 and secure a hopeful playoff later this year for a place in the World Group.

Israel secured itself another year in Group I by beating Slovenia 3-2 in Tel Aviv last July, and before the tie the reports claimed they would be “confident of progressing, even though the tie will be played on an indoor clay court surface”.

The match-ups saw Israel’s No 1 Dudi Sela, who is ranked No 89 in the world, against Hungary’s Peter Nagy, ranked 612. The second rubber pitted Amir Weintraub (ranked 197) against Marton Fucsovics (ranked 203).

Yoni Erlich and Edan Leshem were named as Israel’s doubles players by captain Eyal Ran with Fucsovics and Levente Godry, although Leshem may still be replaced by Sela or Weintraub.

Sela said: “In the past few ties I was drawn to play in the first match, so I’m hoping I can win and that will give Amir confidence ahead of his match. We will be ready.”

Erlich, now 39 years old, missed both of last year’s ties due to injuries and illness and was excited to be back in the team, representing the blue-and-white once more. “I’m in good form and brimming with confidence. We are the favourites, but that should give us confidence and not make us nervous,” said Erlich.

Israel captain Ran expressed the view that he did not believe playing on clay would harm his team’s chances. “Playing on this surface demands a lot of patience and of course this isn’t our favourite surface. On the other hand, we have played a lot on this surface and beat Slovenia on it.”

They were all very wrong.

The only accurate comment came from Sela who said: “In the Davis Cup there are always surprises and lower ranked players beat higher ranked opponents.”

Israel did not even get out of the starting blocks. By the time the doubles rubber was played at the weekend, they fell to an unassailable 3-0 deficit in Budapest.

Despite all their comments earlier, the reports claimed that the Israeli players never looked comfortable on the indoor clay court. Sela went down in five sets 6-2 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-1 to Nagy, ranked 523 places below him.

They went 2-0 down after Weintraub lost in straight sets 6-4 6-2 7-5 to Fucsovics and Erlich and Sela couldn’t even send the tie into a third and decisive day. Erlich and Sela lost 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (9-7) to Fucsovics and Godry which clinched the tie for the hosts with a day to spare. The Israelis lost all three tie-breakers.

The visitors managed to save face on Sunday with Weintraub beating Nagy 5-7 6-4 6-2 and 19-year-old Edan Leshem, who replaced Sela, beating Gabor Borsos 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) 

Israel is now in danger of dropping to Group II for the first time since 2001, but that will all depend on whether it can beat Sweden in September in the first round playoff of Group I, with the winners to maintain their status, while the losers will play a tie against relegation.

In Israel’s favour is that the tie will be played in Tel Aviv.

“We did everything we could, but it wasn’t enough,” said Ran. “We win together and we lose together. I don’t see what we could have done differently. This is a painful defeat. We didn’t think we would find ourselves down 3-0 on Saturday.”

What they could have done differently was not lose all those close tie-breakers in the doubles rubber.

Sela is hoping to make up for last weekend’s disappointment and once again is realistic: “This is disappointing and I didn’t think we would be trailing 2-1 after two days. We will be the favourites against Sweden, but we saw this weekend that you never know what might happen in the Davis Cup.”

For the record South Africa won through 5-0 against Luxembourg with Marcos Ondruska captaining the team for the first time. 

 

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