Any way you look at it, Israel enters this weekend's Davis Cup semifinal tie against Spain as a clear-cut underdog.
Even without its top two ranked players, Rafael Nadal (No. 2 in the world) and Fernando Verdasco (9), it is difficult to see how the defending champion will fail to claim a comfortable victory over Israel at the clay court constructed inside the Polaris golf club at the southern Spanish resort of Murcia.
Spain has won 16 consecutive ties at home and has triumphed in its last 18 ties played on clay. All three of the Spanish players likely to play in the singles, Tommy Robredo (16), David Ferrer (19) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (21), are ranked higher than Israel's No. 1, Dudi Sela (29), not to mention Harel Levy (140).
While Albert Costa's men are all clay court specialists, Sela dreads the red surface, winning just one match on clay this year. Levy even went as far as avoiding the surface throughout the year until he decided to renew his acquaintance with the red courts at the Genoa Challenger tournament last week in preparation for the Davis Cup semis.
The reasons why Spain should win this weekend go on and on, but the simple fact that the oddsmakers are willing to multiply your money 17 times if Israel claims a stunning victory pretty much says it all.
"It's like David against Goliath - and we know who won that one," said Andy Ram with a hopeful smile on Thursday.
However, Israel captain Eyal Ran was far more realistic.
"The outcome of the tie obviously does not depend on us," Ran said. "I have prepared the squad to the best of my abilities and we will have to find a way to surprise the Spaniards. We will have very few chances and we must make the most of them."
Levy will face Ferrer in the opening match on Friday, with Sela to play Ferrero in the second match of the day. Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich will come up against Feliciano Lopez (34) and Tommy Robredo in Saturday's doubles, with the reverse singles to be played on Sunday.
"Clearly we are the favorites when we are playing at home." Costa said. "But we shall have to be very alert and work to beat Israel."
Levy was pleased with the fact that he was drawn to play in the first match of the tie.
"Dudi likes to play second so we are happy I'm starting," said the 31-year-old, who has won eight of his nine matches played on clay in the
Davis Cup. (Incidentally, Ferrer is a perfect 4-0 on the surface in the prestigious competition.)
Sela has won nine of his last 10 Davis Cup encounters, not including the loss in a dead rubber against Russia in the quarterfinals, but has yet to play on clay in the competition. Ferrero, a former world No. 1, has vast experience on the surface, helping Spain to the title in 2000 and 2004, and making a triumphant return to the team after a four-year absence in July, clinching the quarterfinal tie against Germany.
"I've never played Sela before so I asked my teammates for some advice on how to play against him," said Ferrero, although considering Robredo and Ferrer are a combined 1-4 against Sela, the veteran may be wise to ignore their suggestions.
Sela is entering the tie on the back of a five match losing streak, but is confident that he will find his best form in Murcia, as he always seems to do in the Davis Cup.
"I haven't recorded the best results in the past couple of months, but the Davis Cup is a different story and I'm feeling much better now," said Sela. "We are very motivated for this semifinal and we are hoping to record a shocking victory."