(photo credit: ITA/couresty credit)
Israel was relegated to Group I of the Davis Cup on Sunday after Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub both dropped to defeats, giving Belgium a 3-2 victory in the World Group playoff tie in Antwerp.
The blue-and-white headed into the final day of action brimming with confidence after Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich fought back to claim a dramatic five-set victory in the doubles encounter on Friday to give Israel a 2-1 lead and leave the national team needing just a single point from Sunday’s reverse singles.
However, Sela, ranked No. 85 in the world, failed to end his dismal Davis Cup form in the first contest of the day and fell to his sixth straight defeat in the competition, losing 7-5, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 to Ruben Bemelmans (155), sending the tie to a decisive fifth rubber.
Weintraub (184), who clawed his way back to beat Bemelmans in five sets in the opening day on Thursday, secured Israel’s return to the World Group last year with a victory over Go Soeda in the final match of the playoff tie in Japan.
However, he could not repeat the heroics on Sunday, losing 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 to Steve Darcis (165), meaning Israel will be back in Europe/Africa Zone Group I in 2014 after just one year.
Israel spent 2011 and 2012 in Group I following a three-year run among the top 16 nations in the World Group.
The national team, which was drawn to face Belgium in the playoffs after suffering its first Davis Cup whitewash since 2004 in February, losing 5-0 at France, had high hopes of retaining its World Group status with Belgium not having a single top-100 player on its squad following the injury to David Goffin, ranked No. 72 in the world.
Nevertheless, it could not complete a victory, claiming two points with tight five-set wins, but failing to pick up the crucial third point.
“We tried everything we could think of,” said Israel captain Eyal Ran. “We faced a really tough opponent and we could already see ourselves back in the World Group after taking a 2-1 lead. This wasn’t our day.”
“We have already managed to come back from Group I before,” he added.
“We did everything but win. We will lift our heads and look forward to next year.”
Darcis made headlines across the world when he stunned Rafael Nadal in the first round of Wimbledon earlier this summer.
However, he was forced to pull out of the tournament before his second round match due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the victory over the Spaniard and had played just three tournaments since, losing to German Richard Becker (463) in the first round of a Challenger event in the Netherlands two weeks ago.
Nevertheless, he showed up in top form in Antwerp, easily beating Sela and Weintraub to break Israel hearts.
Darcis lost just five games against Sela on Thursday and was in complete control throughout his match against Weintraub as well to give Belgium a deserved triumph.
With his last Davis Cup win coming way back in February 2012, Sela was under plenty of pressure entering Sunday.
It showed from the start, with the Israeli being broken in the first game. Sela soon broke back, but he could hold his serve only twice in six games throughout the first set and dug himself an early hole.
Sela finally showed up in the second set, breaking in the fourth game and tying up the match by holding serve in the ninth game.
However, he completely lost his rhythm once more in the third set, failing to pick up a single game. Sela saved two match points in the ninth game of the fourth set to resurrect his hopes, but he dropped his serve yet again in the subsequent game and Weintraub couldn’t save the day for a second straight year, meaning Israel will have to once more get accustomed to life in gloomy Group I.