Thursday will be one of the most important days in Andy Ram’s career and his tennis racket will be nowhere in sight.

The 32-year-old will undergo career-saving surgery on his right hip, which he injured during Israel’s 3-2 victory over Japan in the Davis Cup World Group playoffs one month ago.

Ram overcame almost debilitating pain and together with Yoni Erlich claimed a four-set victory in the doubles tie in Tokyo. However, the severity of the injury was such that it forced him to even consider retirement in recent weeks.

Speaking to Ram earlier this week ahead of his flight to Vail, Colorado, where he will undergo the surgery to repair the muscle tear in his right hip joint, he rejected any notion that his career could be over, brimming with optimism that he will be back to his best. He even believes he will be fit in time to be part of the Israel team to face France in the first round of the World Group over the weekend of February 1-3.

“I’m very optimistic that I’ll be back in action in time to play against France in the Davis Cup,” he said. “I’ll have to spend a month or two on crutches and I face a long recovery process. But I’m having this surgery because I want to return to play tennis.

I’m not doing it for any other reason.

I have family and friends that support me and I hope to be back as soon as possible.”

Ram injured his hip midway through the second set at the Ariake Coliseum, but admitted that he never even contemplated retiring from the match.

“I knew it was serious the moment it happened. I only continued to play because it was the Davis Cup,” he said. “I couldn’t let myself or my teammates down. If it had happened during a tour match I would have certainly not continued.

“But retiring from a Davis Cup match is simply not an option. The thought didn’t even cross my mind despite all the pain. I would have ended the match on my knees had I needed to.”

Despite that heroic win, matters are complicated further by the fact that his partnership with 35-year-old Yoni Erlich has resulted only in sporadic success since they returned to play together on a weekly basis at the start of 2011.

Ram and Erlich, who are currently ranked at just No. 52 in the world, were enjoying the best period of their careers before everything changed in September 2008. An elbow injury kept Erlich out of the game for seven months, and when he finally overcome all the setbacks, he was hit by Ram’s contentious decision to continue the successful partnership he had built with Max Mirnyi while his friend was out rather than aiding Erlich in his return from injury.

The two eventually got back together on a full time basis at the start of last year, but they have since failed to make it past the second round in eight Grand Slam tournaments.

They did manage to win three small events, the last of which came in Belgrade in May, marking their 15th triumph together.

They also played some of the best tennis of their lives in knocking out Beijing 2008 gold medalists Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka at the London Olympics before losing to the Bryan brothers in the quarterfinals.

They failed to build on that form in the US Open, losing in the second round, but there is little question that regardless on their results on the ATP Tour, Israel’s Davis Cup squad would be lost without them.

Ram and Erlich have won 13 of 15 matches for their country since September 2005, and with few talents knocking on the door, the retirement of either of the two will be a death blow to the blue-and-white’s chances of repeating the success of yesteryear.

Erlich was considering calling it quits at the end of the year before Israel booked its return to the World Group with the win over Japan. He now finds himself in the same position Ram was in four years ago, but Andy believes they will be back together on court soon enough.

“Yoni is disappointed. He underwent something similar when he suffered a serious injury in 2008,” Ram said. “He is disappointed because he has to find a new partner.

It is an unpleasant situation, but it is part of our sport. As soon as I’m 100 percent healthy I think we will get back together.”

Ram’s injury is not that different from the one suffered by former Davis Cup teammate Harel Levy in the summer of 2001.

Levy reached a career-best ranking of No. 30 in the world at the age of 22 in June 2001, but was never the same player after the complicated right hip injury, eventually spending much of the remainder of his career on the Challenger circuit.

Nevertheless, Ram remains upbeat regarding his prospects of making a full recovery.

“I believe that I’ll be back to my best after the injury. I’m still young for a doubles player,” he explained. “I’m only 32 and I’ve still got many years to play. I may not be getting any younger and the rehabilitation gets harder the older you are, but I’m going to Colorado in order to come back. I know I will be back. I don’t know exactly when, but I’ll be back.”

allon@jpost.com

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