(photo credit: ISRAEL TENNIS ASSOCIATION)
The Israel national team begins its 2016 Davis Cup campaign on Friday in Budapest, Hungary, hoping to take a first step towards a return to the World Group.
Israel faces Hungary in the first round of Europe/Africa Group I in the best-of-five tie over the next three days, with the winner to advance to a second round meeting with Slovakia. The winner in the second round will progress to the World Group playoffs for a place among the top 16 nations in 2017.
Israel last played in the World Group in 2013, losing 5-0 to France in the first round.
The blue-and-white, which secured itself another year in Group I by beating Slovenia 3-2 in Tel Aviv last July, will be confident of progressing this weekend, even though the tie will be played on an indoor clay-court surface.
Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela (89) faces Hungary’s Peter Nagy (612) in Friday’s first singles rubber before Amir Weintraub (197) plays Marton Fucsovics (203).
Yoni Erlich and Edan Leshem were named as Israel’s doubles players by captain Eyal Ran for Saturday’s match with Fucsovics and Levente Godry, although Leshem may still be replaced by Sela or Weintraub.
The reverse singles will be played on Sunday.
“In the past few ties I was drawn to play in the first match, so I’m hoping I can win and that will give Amir confidence ahead of his match,” said Sela. “In the Davis Cup there are always surprises and lower ranked players beat higher ranked opponents.
We will be ready.”
Erlich missed both of last year’s ties due to injuries and illness and can’t wait to represent the blue-and-white once more.
“I’m very excited to be back,” said Erlich, who will turn 39 next month. “I’m in good form and brimming with confidence.
We are the favorites, but that should give us confidence and not make us nervous.”
Israel captain Ran doesn’t think playing on clay will harm his team’s chances.
“I think the players are ready and we will see that this weekend,” said Ran. “Playing on this surface demands a lot of patience and of course this isn’t our favorite surface.
On the other hand, we have played a lot on this surface and beat Slovenia on it.”
Meanwhile, Andy Murray remains committed to playing a full part in Great Britain’s Davis Cup defense despite the prospect of a packed schedule hampering the world No. 2’s chances of leading the side to a repeat triumph.
Murray was instrumental in ending Britain’s 79-year wait for the title that culminated with victory over Belgium in Ghent last November, and he will be back on court for a first round tie against Japan in Birmingham on Friday.
Should his side advance past the Kei Nishikori-led Japan, Murray has pledged to play in a potential quarterfinal against either Serbia or Kazakhstan that falls between Wimbledon and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Elsewhere, Julia Glushko (134) faced Caroline Garcia (38) of France on Thursday in the second round of the WTA Tour tournament in Monterrey, Mexico.
Glushko claimed an impressive 6-1, 6-1 win over Alexandra Dulgheru (67) in the first round after coming through the qualifiers.