Israel and Dudi Sela ended the first day of their Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie level at 1-1 in Tel Aviv after two straight sets wins for their respective No. 1 players. Israel's Sela defeated Austrian No. 2 Andreas Haider-Maurer before Austria’s top player Jurgen Melzer pulled the visitors level with a victory over Harel Levy.
The two teams both feel they have done what has been expected of them at this stage
and Friday's doubles is seen by both teams to be the crucial rubber which could decide the
World No. 13 Jurgen Melzer, by far the highest-ranked player in the tie who carries Austria's hopes firmly on his shoulders, was too good for veteran Levy, ranked 210 places below him. He won 64 63 63 in two hours 11 minutes.
Levy tried to keep pace with the Austrian No. 1 but it was simply to big an ask in
the first set and the Austrian was always a step ahead of his rival. Melzer got the break midway through the set and held on to take it 64.
Melzer took an early break in the second set and had Levy 0-40 down in the third game but the excitable crowd helped Levy stay in the picture as he held on. However Melzer had an extra gear every time Levy threatened to close the gap.
Levy was for the most part stretched to the peak of his ability but it was never going to be enough to trouble his younger opponent and there was only ever going to be one winner.
“The difference was that I was the one in charge of the points most of the time and at the end I showed that I was a little bit better; it was a good score and I saved a lot of energy for tomorrow," Melzer said.
Levy admitted that Melzer's level was just a bit above his. "Most of the big points he played better than me. I had many chances that I didn't take," Levy said.
Sela gets Israel off to winning start
Earlier in the day Sela gave the home team an initial 1-0 lead over Austria with a workmanlike three-set victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.
Sela, who won 64 61 63 in just under two-and-a-half hours, gave Israel an expected lead in the opening rubber against a Davis Cup debutant. In fact, it is probably the only singles encounter where the home team had a clear advantage on paper.
The Israeli broke in the fifth game of the first set and looked the more steady of the two in a nervous opening. Both players made errors throughout the set and it was more a case of Haider-Maurer giving easy away points than the Israeli asserting his dominance. Sela made sure his game steadied up while the Austrian player continued to make the errors.
Sela's greater experience in the competition served him well later on, however, and he took a firm grip on the second set, racing to a 5-1 lead with two breaks in the process before a long game which Sela eventually managed to win for a clear advantage in the match.
The Israeli then sped to a 4-1 lead in the third set and looked as if he was going to close it out after producing the point of the match, a winning lob off a desperate lunge to his forehand, but Haider-Maurer then won his serve before Sela lost his for the first time in the match.
It made no difference, however, as the Austrian relinquished control in the eighth game to allow Sela to serve for the match and he won it on his third match point after Haider-Maurer netted.
The match was more notable for its errors with the Israeli notching 43 and his opponent 64, but Sela said he was happy with his winning effort.
"I didn't play my best tennis today and I don't think he did either, but I prepared for this match, I knew how he was going to play and I did what I needed to get us into the lead," Sela said afterwards.
Reflecting on his Davis Cup debut, Haider-Maurer said: "For sure it is difficult the first time, always there is pressure in the Davis Cup. I made a lot of mistakes and that's it. This surface is very fast, the bounce is not very high so it is difficult to play."
Friday's doubles sees Israel's Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich meet Melzer and Alexander Peya for Austria. It begins at 11am to allow it to end before the holy fast day of Yom Kippur which begins at sundown, when most of Israel closes down for a 24-hour fast day observed by the majority of the country's Jewish population. Saturday will be a rest day and play will resume on Sunday for the reverse singles.