Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For the first time since 2006, Israel’s Davis Cup team lost in the first round of Europe/ Africa Zone Group I on Saturday, leaving it in danger of dropping to Group II, something which hasn’t happened in 14 years.
The blue-and-white fell to an unassailable 3-0 deficit against Romania in Sibiu, losing the tie with a day to spare after Bar Botzer and Idan Leshem were beaten in the doubles encounter on Saturday following defeats by Botzer and Dudi Sela in the singles rubbers on Friday.
Israel will face Slovenia in the first round playoff of Group I in July or September, with the winner to maintain its status, while the loser will play in the second round playoff against relegation to Group II.
The tie in Romania was Israel’s first since Andy Ram’s retirement and the team had to manage without Yoni Erlich as well on Saturday, with the veteran failing to fully recover from pneumonia. Sela was supposed to play alongside Erlich, but he was ruled out with a hand injury he sustained on Friday, meaning youngsters Botzer and Leshem were forced to team up. They never really had any chance against Romanian doubles experts Horia Tecau (9) and Florin Mergea (17), losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Leshem, who will celebrate his 18th birthday later this month, was making his Davis Cup debut after being called up to the squad in place of Ram. Leshem impressed on his way to the final of the national championships in Ra’anana last December, but is still ranked just 1,222 in the world.
On Friday, Botzer (893) lost 7-5, 6-3, 6-0 to Adrian Ungur (159) before Sela (108) dropped to a disappointing 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 defeat to Marius Copil (168).
The last time Israel lost in the first round of Group I was in February 2006 against a Serbia team which included an 18-year-old Novak Djokovic. The blue-and-white went on to beat Great Britain in a battle against relegation. Israel hasn’t played in Group II since beating Luxembourg 4-1 in September 2001.