Israel and Portugal took a major step towards gaining a play-off place for next year's Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group by taking 2-0 leads on the first day in their respective Europe/Africa Zone Group I ties on Friday.
Israel's debutant Amir Weintraub, playing in the No. 2 singles spot, was the hero for the hosts against Poland at Ramat Hasharon when he beat opposition No. 1 Jerzy Janowicz in five sets, his first ever match of this length, after Dudi Sela had given Israel an early lead with a straight sets win over inexperienced Marcin Gawron.
Portugal’s Federico Gil and Rui Machado both utilised their home advantage to full effect to see off Lukas Lacko and Martin Klizan of Sloavk Republic on the outdoor clay courts at Cruz Quebrada near Lisbon.
Gil needed just 1 hour 38 minutes to cruise to a 62 62 61 win over Lacko, but Machado was pushed much harder by Klizan before winning 64 64 16 26 64 in a match that lasted 3 hours 35 minutes.
The two other Europe/Africa Zone Group I ties - between Slovenia and Finland, and Ukraine and Netherlands – are both level at 1-1 going into Saturday's doubles.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine's No. 1 player Sergiy Stakhovsky beat Dutch No. 2 Robin Haase in the first singles rubber 61 64 67(2) 46 62, but Thiemo de Bakker levelled the tie by edging Ilya Marchenko 76(3) 76(6) 64.
Jarkko Nieminen gave visitors Finland the early lead in Ljubljana by beating Gerga Zemlja 36 63 64 63 before Blaz Kavcic restored order for the hosts in a rubber that had a similar pattern, where he lost the first set before coming back to win 46 62 63 62.
New boy Weintraub warms to Davis Cup quickly
Weintraub, 24, came into Israel's side for the first time following the recent retirement of singles veterans Harel Levy and Noam Okun, who were both given an official send-off in between the rubbers at Ramat Hasharon. The Israeli looked lost initially against the tall Janowicz, ranked at No. 150, over 100 places higher than Weintraub.
The Pole's booming serve and powerful forehand gave him a comfortable early advantage as he reeled off the first set 64 and the Israeli admitted that nerves going into the tie had been a factor in his hesitant start.
But he showed his mettle in a gritty encounter that was a typical Davis Cup duel. It was more a battle than a pretty performance as he came back to win the following two sets 62 62 when Janowicz went off the boil.
Weintraub was in a position to win the match in the fourth set but Janowicz, who appeared to let the home crowd get to him, somehow increased his percentages while the Israeli faltered and lost his serve and the ensuing tiebreak.
But the Israeli did not disappoint in the final set as he gained a crucial break midway through to finish off the match on his second match point.
"I felt really good, really comfortable and I could have gone on another set, even two," said Weintraub, who added that he was "really nervous" and that he was lucky that Sela had put Israel on course with his 61 63 64 win over Gawron in the opening rubber.