ANTWERP, BELGIUM: Israel's veteran doubles pair of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich served up a rollercoaster of a victory over the hosts' Olivier Rochus and Steve Darcis on Friday to put the visitors 2-1 up in their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off ahead of Sunday's reverse singles. They eventually came through 63 57 16 75 62 in three hours and 43 minutes.
Saturday will be a rest day in the tie because the Israelis have asked to observe the Jewish fast day of Yom Kippur which begins at sundown, 7:45pm CET, on Friday.
The Israelis, one of the most experienced doubles teams on tour and former Australian Open champions, looked as if they would make easy work of Darcis and Rochus winning the first set 6-3 and holding a 5-3 lead with Ram serving, but he inexplicably had a lapse in concentration, lost his serve and the momentum swung totally in favour of the Belgians.
Rochus, with some powerful, low hitting to the feet of his opponents and a number of killer lobs, and Darcis, with passing shots and strong serving put their opponents under severe pressure and came close to securing a win that would have undoubtedly brought Belgium to the brink of outright victory in the tie.
"Everything went pretty easily at the beginning for us, we were controlling everything and suddenly it turned into a disaster," Ram said.
Rochus and Darcis wowed the hitherto sleepy home crowd who were witnessing what appeared to be a certain disappointment for their heroes but it all changed in an instant and they for the bulk of the middle section of the match could do no wrong and looked as if they might clinch an unexpected, yet critical win.
"Today was a very strange match ... one or two balls totally changed the match. I really thought we could finish it in four sets but they are very experienced, they have played more doubles together and they finished very strongly," Rochus said.
The Israelis needed only one break to win the first set 6-3 with some solid serving and net play and appeared to be cruising when they broke early in the second set for the lead but Ram lost his serve at 5-3 to allow the Belgians back into the match and Rochus produced some wicked returns of serve to secure it at 7-5.
The third set was a quick-fire 6-1 win for the Belgians as the Israelis' calamitous display continued and a solitary early break early in the fourth set appeared as if it would be game, set and rubber to the Belgians, but suddenly, without any clear indication, Erlich and Ram began to claw their way back. They broke Rochus for 3-3 and then Darcis towards the end to level it at two sets apiece.
Suddenly the Israelis were back in the running and they regained some of the form that had seen them through most of the first two sets, not allowing the Belgians to settle.
The match was punctuated by a number of thrilling points, including a barrage of smashes from Erlich and Ram off high defensive lobs that appeared to skim the gantries, before the Israelis put the point away.
“It was a rollercoaster today, there was a lot of character, a lot of fighting spirit, the guys deserved it," Israeli captain Eyal Ran said. "Davis Cup is Davis Cup, things change, the Belgians kept fighting. My players lost their rhythm and confidence but most important, they kept fighting, we said we would find our way back into this match, the guys kept believing and they controlled the final set.”
“The Belgians are a good side and are famous for fighting back, they have a good team. They were very successful in controlling the match from the back of the court,” Ran explained.
Belgian captain Johan van Herck said he was not expecting to win but his players had had their chances.
“There was not much we could do, I think it was surprising that we came back into the match, but then we had the upper hand. It didn’t happen (the Israelis) kept believing in the game plan and that’s what won them the match,” he said.
Van Herck said he felt the outcome of the tie remained wide open, although if the Belgians can level the tie at 2-2 in the first reverse singles on Sunday, Darcis, who is the No. 2 singles player, should be able to secure victory in the final rubber.
“If we can get back to 2-2 we will be favourites, but we have to get there first. Steve is playing the best tennis of his life,” he said.
In the opening singles on Thursday, Darcis made easy work of Israeli No. 1 Dudi Sela, who does not like playing on clay, 61 62 62, before Amir Weintraub leveled the tie with a five-set win over Ruben Bemelmans 63 26 67(2) 76(4) 64.
Barring injury, Sela and Weintraub will play for Israel but van Herck hinted that he would have to consider his best option to secure the rubber against Sela.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Johan van Herck (BEL) - 13/9/13
Captain Eyal Ran (ISR) on Yom Kippur - 13/9/13
Captain Eyal Ran (ISR) - 13/9/13
Jonathan Erlich/Andy Ram (USR) - 13/9/13
Olivier Rochus (BEL) - 13/9/13