Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela.
(photo credit: PAVEL LEBEDA/CESKA SPORTOVNI)
Israel will have to wait at least one more year to realize its dream of returning to the Davis Cup World Group after suffering a 3-1 defeat to the Czech Republic on Saturday in the second round of Europe/Africa Group I in Ostrava.
Israel was aiming to return to the World Group playoffs for the first time since 2014, which was also the last time it won on the road until overcoming South Africa 3-2 in the first round at the Irene Country Club in Centurion at the start of February.
Two road victories in a little over two months proved to be beyond the blue-andwhite, especially with the tie in Ostrava being held on an indoor clay court Israel’s players are unaccustomed to playing on.
With the hosts being without their No. 1 player Tomas Berdych, ranked No. 18 in the world, the Czechs, like Israel, only had one player ranked inside the top-200 on their squad, in Jiri Vesely (65). But he made quick work of Edan Leshem (276) in the opening match of the tie on Friday, winning 6-0, 6-1 in 57 minutes and Israel was in serious trouble after its No. 1 Dudi Sela (98) was beaten 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 by Adam Pavlasek (208).
Vesely and Pavlasek clinched the tie with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Yoni Erlich and Yshai Oliel in the doubles on Saturday before the latter gained a little more experience with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Vaclav Safranek (233) in a meaningless rubber.
Israel already secured its Group I status for 2019 with the victory over South Africa, avoiding the drama it faced after losing in the first round of Group I in each of the previous three years.
“We had a chance in the doubles, but it got away from us in the third set,” said Oliel, who was teaming up with Erlich for the first time.
“I wasn’t surprised that captain Harel Levy nominated me as we had practiced well during the week. I believe that my form over the weekend will help me going forward.”
The 41-year-old Erlich was impressed with Oliel, who is almost 23 years his junior, but wouldn’t confirm that he will still be part of the national team for its 2019 campaign.
“It was fun playing with him. He showed his capabilities and fought like a lion. He never wavered and that is the difference between mediocre players and very good players,” said Erlich. “We could have certainly done better in the tie and that is disappointing. It is tough to answer right now if I’ll be back in 2019. We’ll have to wait and see.”