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04 September 2013

Israelis hopeful of success against Belgium


NEWS ARTICLE

By Ori Lewis

Photo: Antoine CouvercelleDudi Sela and Jonathan Erlich (ISR)

Israel will travel to Belgium full of hope for next week's Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie in Antwerp as they bid to maintain their place in the top flight.

The tie will be played at the Lotto Arena on an indoor clay court, a surface which will certainly favour the hosts and on which the Israelis have been least successful over the years.

But despite the underdog tag which statistics suggest the Israelis deserve, the veteran doubles pairing of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, who have been a crucial cog in the team's Davis Cup exploits over the past decade, feel the visitors have a good chance to win the tie as they aim to hold on to their World Group place for another season.

"We have beaten some tough sides in away ties recently such as Sweden and Japan. But the challenge here will be very big because it is on clay," Ram told reporters in a pre-tie news conference.

But he said that the fact it would be played indoors could slightly lessen the slow surface's effects.

"As it is indoors, perhaps it is a bit of a leveler and will make conditions a little faster," the jovial Ram added.

Erlich, who at 36 is the oldest member of the team, said he had contemplated hanging up his racket last year but was dissuaded after victory over Japan which afforded Israel another year in the World Group.

"I did have many thoughts for me ahead of retirement but last year's win in Japan prompted me to stay on as for as long as I can continue to contribute and help win the doubles point, I'll be happy to play on as long as I am called," he said.

He sounded a note of caution to the Belgians: "We will not be surprised if we win this tie, the Belgians are not that dominant that they can feel certain of victory, and they will be the ones under pressure," he said.

The home team will be led by world No. 72 David Goffin with their three other players separated by just 22 places in the rankings: world No. 142 Olivier Rochus, No. 154 Ruben Bemelmans and No. 164 Steve Darcis. All are in contention to play the second singles spot when captain Johan van Herck names his team.

Assuming all Israel’s players remain fit, captain Eyal Ran will have no hesitation in naming Dudi Sela, at 77, as his No. 1 player, and Amir Weintraub (188) as the No. 2. Both of them were preparing at clay court tournaments in Europe and did not attend the news conference.

The Israelis will also take two younger players with them as they look to introduce the next generation to Davis Cup, Or Ram-Harel and Bar Botzer.

The tie will begin on Thursday, September 12, a day earlier than the scheduled start for all the weekend's other ties because of the Jewish fast day of Yom Kippur on Saturday when there will be no play. The opening singles rubbers will be played on Thursday, the doubles on Friday and the reverse singles on Sunday.

In 23 ties played since 2003, Israel have played only two on clay but have lost both to far more dominant sides, Chile and Spain. But the team's clay court record since the World Group system was introduced in 1981, shows a number of victories on the slow surface against teams of similar rating.

Both in ranking and record in the competition, Belgium and Israel are very evenly matched and in their four meetings since 1982, each has won once at home and once away, alternating between clay in Belgium and Israel’s hard courts. This will be the first meeting indoors, however.

In their last meeting in September 1994 at Ramat Hasharon, also a World Group qualifying tie, Belgium triumphed in a very closely-contested affair. It ended Israel's first tenure in the World Group that had lasted eight years and it was also the farewell tie for Amos Mansdorf, still considered Israel's best player, who had to retire with cramp in the final set of his rubber with Filip de Wulf which handed overall victory in the tie to Belgium.

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