Israel ensured victory in its Davis Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I second round tie against Poland when veteran doubles pairing Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich gave them an unassailable 3-0 lead over Poland. This result followed up excellent work on Friday by Dudi Sela and newcomer Amir Weintraub, who set the tone with two wins in the singles to put the hosts firmly in the driving seat.
It was the only one of the four Europe/Africa Zone Group I ties to be decided in two days, while the other three, which are all first round fixtures, will go down to the final day on Sunday. The Israelies, meanwhile, can look forward to taking their place in the World Group play-offs in September.
Slovak Republic kept its hopes alive against hosts Portugal and sent the tie into a third day when Michal Mertinak and Filip Polasek put their team on the board in the doubles. The Slovak pair claimed a four-set win over Federico Gil and Leonardo Tavares 63 64 16 61 to reduce the deficit to 2-1.
Slovenia took a 2-1 lead over visitors Finland in Ljubljana when Luca Gregorc and Grega Zemlja squeezed past Harri Heliovaara and Jarkko Nieminen 67(5) 64 64 75 in 3 hours 15 minutes.
In Kharkiv, visitors Netherlands also went ahead 2-1 after sharing the spoils on the first day with Ukraine. The Dutch doubles pairing of Thiemo de Bakker and Robin Haase won a very close encounter against Sergei Bubka and Sergiy Stakhovsky 76(6) 67(5) 64 76(9).
Ram and Erlich produce vintage performance
The Israeli win at the outdoor hard court stadium in Ramat Hasharon on a warm, sunny afternoon in front of some 4,000 spectators provided a perfect climax to the tie for the hosts, and the result probably exceeded expectations following the introduction of Amir Weintraub as a new player in the singles.
The experienced partnership of Ram and Erlich, who were up against Maruisz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, some of the most formidable opposition they have ever faced at home, produced a thrilling match full of very high quality doubles. The noisy crowd played their part too, as they never allowed the visiting duo, currently ranked 13th as a team by the ATP, to settle into the match.
Erlich lost his serve at the start of the first set and it was enough for the Poles to win it 64, but the Israelis then picked up their game and quashed any hope for the visitors of keeping the tie live on the final day.
Erlich began to show some delicate touch volleys and acute angled shots, while Ram’s powerful serve and athleticism, embellished by a number of excellent topspin lobs over the tall Fyrstenberg, ensured that they maintained their impressive home record, winning the next three sets to clinch a 46 64 63 61 victory. Playing together, the Israelis have lost only once on home soil in ten Davis Cup outings.
"Once they got into the match they saw the ball as if it were a watermelon today, they had so much time, they could do anything they wanted with it," said Israeli team captain Eyal Ran, who was full of praise for his winning duo.
"It was an amazing feeling to win and to experience the sensation of playing so well again,” said Erlich, who uncharacteristically hogged the microphone ahead of him more extrovert partner Ram. “We knew that it was well within our capability to beat them and it is not a major surprise."
The Polish pair gave credit to their opponents, saying that although the noisy fans did not make it easy for them, Ram and Erlich were the deserving winners. "We didn't play as well as we could, they were just better, if you just look at the score, 61 in the fourth set, what more can be said?" Matkowski admitted.