After coming up just short in the past two years, Israel will be looking to
return to the Davis Cup World Group when it visits Japan in the playoffs in
Tokyo this weekend.
The blue-and-white needed just two days to open an
unassailable 3-0 lead over Portugal in the second round of the Europe/Africa
Zone Group I tie at Ramat Hasharon in April to clinch its place in the playoffs,
eventually winning 3-2.
However, since falling 4-1 to Chile in March 2010
and dropping out of the World Group, Israel has twice just missed out on
regaining its place among the world’s top 16 nations, losing at home in the
fifth and decisive rubber to both Austria in 2010 and Canada last
The national team faces a completely different proposition
beginning Friday, with Japan the firm favorite to advance at the Ariake
Japan may not be considered a tennis powerhouse, but its Davis
Cup squad boasts three players in the top-100, while Israel’s includes just
The 22-year-old Kei Nishikori, ranked No. 16 in the world, is
the team’s undoubted star, reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open
earlier this year as well as the last eight at the London Olympics.
Soeda (53) will be Japan’s No. 2 player, with Tatsuma Ito (67) and Yuichi Sugita
(141) set to team-up in the doubles match as well as providing extra cover for
Dudi Sela (98) was drawn on Thursday to face Soeda in the
first match of the tie, with Amir Weintraub (223) to come up against Nishikori
in the second rubber on Friday.
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich will play Ito
and Sugita in Saturday’s doubles match, with the reverse singles to take place
Sela enters the tie in far from ideal form after falling to
Japan’s Hiroki Moriya (207) in the first round of the Challenger tournament in
Shanghai last week.
The Israel No. 1 claimed the Challenger title in
Bangkok the previous week after skipping the US Open qualifiers and he is in an
upbeat mood after getting his wish and being drawn to play in the opening rubber
“I’ve known Soeda for many years. We played each other as youth
players and I’m looking forward to meeting him again,” Sela said.
all in excellent form and we will give our best to win.
I hope that we
can end the first day with at least one point.”
Much like Sela, Weintraub
has also had very little to cheer about in 2012. However, he has raised his
level of play in the Davis Cup since making his debut for Israel last March,
beating opponents ranked well above him in his opening matches in the team’s
last three ties.
“We may not have the crowd on our side this time, but we
believe in ourselves,” said Weintraub.
“We are in good form and ready for
this tough battle.”
After a 26-year absence, Japan advanced to the World
Group with a victory over India last September before losing 3-2 to Croatia on
home soil in February to drop to the playoffs.
“That was a tough match,”
Nishikori said of the defeat to the Croats.
“Now we have to face a team
with veteran players like Dudi and Amir.”
Soeda will be aiming to claim
his first career win against Sela.
“His backhand slice is very effective.
He has a variety of shots that he can control well,” Soeda said.
to play my game against him. I think I have a chance because this is the first
time I will be playing him in a five-set match.”
The only rubber Israel
will be entering as the favorite will be the doubles, and Erlich admitted ahead
of the trip to Japan that this may be his last Davis Cup
“This is a very important tie for us. Everyone understands
how significant this is to us,” said the 35-year-old Erlich, who is considering
retiring at the end of the year.
“I’m not that young anymore and a lot of
things are going through my head.
“I will think everything over at the
end of the year and decide what to do with my friends and family.”