TOKYO, JAPAN: Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram gave Israel a 2-1 lead over Japan with a victory in doubles in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie at Ariake Colosseum on Saturday afternoon.
Playing again in intense heat, the Israeli pair dropped the first set before reeling off the next three to post a 57 63 63 61 victory over Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita in a contest that featured few extended rallies.
Israel's strong play at the net and Japan's service struggles in the final two sets proved to be the difference in the match, in which the visitors faced another significant obstacle.
Ram suffered a serious injury to his right hip in the second set while going for a return and was forced to take an injury timeout, but chose to play on in the crucial tie.
"I reached for a short ball and felt a stabbing pain in my hip," said Ram. "I'm happy we are up 2-1 but disappointed and nervous about my injury."
Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori, who was replaced by Ito in Friday's first singles match due to a shoulder injury, may play in the reverse singles on Sunday as the host nation tries to come from behind and remain in the World Group for the second straight year. If Nishikori does play, he would face Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela.
The second reverse singles match is slated to be Amir Weintraub and Go Soeda.
"Sela was inspired by our victory today and will be confident if he plays Nishikori tomorrow," said Israel captain Eyal Ran. "Dudi is one of the best Davis Cup players in Israel's history. We will all be behind him."
Soeda beat Sela in Friday's opening singles match, while Weintraub downed Ito in the second contest.
Japan captain Toshiro Sakai knows that having Nishikori in the lineup on Sunday could decide matters.
"We were hoping to be up 2-1," he stated. "Being down 2-1 was not unexpected. We are hoping Nishikori can play tomorrow."
Japan broke Israel to open the doubles battle before the partisan crowd on hand. Israel broke back to take a 3-2 lead in the first set and the match was then temporarily suspended due to rain.
Following a 30-minute delay, play resumed and stayed on serve until Japan broke to go up 6-5. Ito fired a nice return winner to earn Japan its second break point.
Japan then took the set 7-5 behind a strong service game from Sugita. Erlich and Ram converted just one of their six break points in the first set.
Israel broke to go up 3-1 in the second set and then took the injury timeout for Ram. Erlich and Ram converted several points at the net and clinched the set 6-3 in just 28 minutes to level the match.
Israel kept the pressure on in the third set, breaking Japan twice and controlling play at the net. Japan had 13 unforced errors in the set.
Israel raced to a 5-0 lead in the final set before Japan held serve at love, but it only staved off the inevitable, as Erlich and Ram completed the win 6-1 in the next game when Ito put a backhand into the net.
"We showed our Davis Cup spirit today," said Erlich. "We would have retired if this was a regular tour event. We put all of heart into it for our teammates."
Ito was clearly disappointed with the outcome on Saturday.
"We had a very good first set," he commented. "They started getting points with volleys at the net and we were not moving well."
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Jonathan Erlich (ISR) - 15/09/2012