(photo credit: OFRA FRIEDMAN, ITA)
After losing in the first round of Europe/ Africa Group I earlier this year for the first time since 2006, Israel’s Davis Cup team knows it can’t afford another defeat when it hosts Slovenia this weekend at the Drive- In Arena in Tel Aviv.
Israel was thrashed 5-0 by Romania in March and another setback will send the blue-and-white to a playoff tie against relegation to Group II later this year. Israel has been part of Group I or the World Group since 2002 and will maintain its status in Group I for another year with a win over Slovenia.
Despite the absence of Yoni Erlich, who is set to miss 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear earlier this week, Israel enters the weekend as a firm favorite. Not only will the blue-and-white be hosting a tie in Israel after more than three years, but it should also benefit from Slovenia’s under-strength roster.
Slovenia traveled to Israel without its top two players, with Grega Zemlja, ranked No. 301 in the world, to be the team’s No. 1. Nik Razborsek (714) will be Slovenia’s No. 2.
Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela (90) will face Razborsek in the opening rubber on Friday before Amir Weintraub (436), making his return to the Davis Cup after more than a year following a lengthy injury layoff, plays Zemlja.
Israel captain Eyal Ran nominated Sela and 18-year-old Edan Leshem for Saturday’s doubles match, with Slovenia naming youngsters Aljaz Radinski and David Gorsic.
The captains can make changes to their pairings until Saturday morning and Zemlja is expected to also play in the doubles.
The reverse singles will take place on Sunday.
Sela doesn’t know much about his opponent on Friday.
“All I know is that he is left-handed,” said Sela. “I feel good after a week of training and I hope to get the tie off to a winning start.”
Zemlja was ranked as high as No. 43 in the world just two years ago and Weintraub is expecting a tough test.
“I hope that Dudi can win the first match so that Zemlja will be under pressure and that will work in my favor,” Weintraub said. “He is a legitimate top-50 player even though he is ranked a lot lower. I’m nervous but I feel good physically. If we can lead 2-0 after the first day we should be fine.”