ANTWERP, BELGIUM: Amir Weintraub’s thrilling victory over Ruben Bemelmans levelled the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off between Belgium and Israel at 1-1 after the first day's play set up an intriguing and unpredictable remainder of the tie.
Weintraub triumphed 63 26 67(2) 76(4) 64, a win that at stages in the match had looked unlikely, making Friday’s doubles encounter between Olivier Rochus and Steve Darcis of Belgium and Israel’s experienced and trusty duo of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich a thriller that will surely have a very heavy bearing on the tie’s outcome.
The tie began a day earlier than scheduled because the Israelis had asked not to play on the holy day of Yom Kippur which is marked on Saturday. It will be a welcome additional rest for both Bemelmans and Weintraub, whose match lasted one minute past four hours and will return to action in the reverse singles on Sunday.
Weintraub ekes out vital win to keep Israel in the tie
Neither Bemelmans nor Weintraub, ranked No. 155 and 184 respectively, had ever played a singles rubber on clay before |Thursday’s and the latter, who has pulled out some impressive victories for Israel in recent years, did just enough against Bemelmans.
He held his own against the left-handed Belgian in the first set and managed to get the vital break in the seventh game, after which he served out for the set.
Weintraub slackened off in the second set and committed a number of unforced errors that allowed Bemelmans to level the match but the drama only intensified as the match progressed and the third was closely-contested with each player holding serve until the tie break which Bemelmans win 7-2 as Weintraub faltered with a number of unforced errors.
The fourth set saw some very powerful high-quality baseline hitting with Weintraub cancelling out an early break by Bemelmans, after which neither player was able to create another opening and again a tie break was required to separate the two.
Weintraub conceded a mini-break to go 2-3 down but immediately broke back with a piercing backhand pass after drawing his opponent into the net with a delicate drop shot. He followed it up with two winning points on his own serve and won the tie break 7-4 to send the match to a deciding set.
Here both men started to go for their shots as they sought to shorten the points, it appeared to be anybody’s match until Weintraub, who had previously squandered a number of chances to break, managed to set the better of Bemelmans, whose serve, which had so often come to the rescue, deserted him at the most crucial moment.
Weintraub then served confidently to close out the match and send the Israeli team and the small number of supporters into raptures of joy, as they now feel they have a realistic chance of clinching the tie, something that would almost certainly have been far less likely if Belgium had gone 2-0 up.
“It is really disappointing, I was really playing well, I had the upper hand but he began hitting everything with full power and he put a lot of pressure on me … when balls are flying at you at 200 kilometers an hour it’s really difficult to get away from the pressure,” Bemelmans said.
Weintraub, exhausted but very happy with his performance and his win.”
“It’s a great, great win for me, clay is not the surface I prefer but today I played as if it was hard courts and everything worked very well for me.
Darcis sets Belgium on course
Steve Darcis completely overwhelmed Dudi Sela in the opening rubber in straight sets 61 62 62.
Darcis was in prime form with some scintillating baseline play for which Sela had no answer and he wrapped up the match in an hour and 51 minutes.
The Belgian No. 2 was returning from a long lay off with injury which he picked up after causing one of the upsets of the year when he sent Rafael Nadal crashing out of the first round at Wimbledon.
Darcis looked supremely confident and put Sela on the back foot from the outset by breaking the Israeli in the opening game of the match and again in the third game as he raced to a 4-0 lead. Sela finally held serve in the fifth game by which time it was too late to save the set.
He looked unstoppable in the second set too and again got an early break as Sela succumbed in the second game as he forged a 4-1 lead. Then, for a brief period, Sela appeared to control the rallies and Darcis tired a little, but it was only a momentary lapse and the home crowd favourite picked up the pace again as Sela played a poor game at 5-2 down to lose the second set.
A similar scenario ensued in the third set, where Sela was again on the defensive as Darcis broke the Israeli for a 2-0 lead. Sela broke his opponent for the first time to make it 2-4 in favour of Darcis, but it was too little, too late as Darcis ran away with victory in emphatic style.
“Even if the score appeared easy, it wasn’t that easy but if my level had dropped a little he would have been back in the game so I had to ensure I maintained my level at 110 percent and that made the difference,” Darcis said.
He disconsolate Sela said he was not happy playing on the clay against a player who denied him any chance at getting into the match.
“The best tactic for me would have been to stay back and hit a lot of balls, but it’s uncomfortable for me to play that way,” Sela said.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Steve Darcis (BEL) - 12/09/2013
Dudi Sela (ISR) - 12/09/2013
Captain Eyal Ran (ISR) - 12/09/2013
Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) - 12/09/2013
Amir Weintraub (ISR) - 12/09/2013