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(photo credit: AP)
Andy Ram believes that despite its underdog status Israel's Davis Cup team can defeat Chile next weekend at Ramat Hasharon in the World Group playoff and book its place among the top 16 sides in the competition.
"I'm always optimistic," said Ram, who will team-up with Yoni Erlich in next Friday's doubles match. "At the beginning of the year I said we would advance to the World Group and I haven't changed my mind."
Ram spoke alongside his Davis Cup teammates Erlich, Harel Levy and team captain Eyal Ran at a press conference held at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya.
Israel, which reached the playoff tie by defeating Luxembourg and Italy in February and April's Europe/Africa Group I ties, is looking to advance to the World Group for the first time since 1994.
As it is Yom Kippur on Saturday, the first two singles matches will be played a day earlier than usual on the Thursday, with the doubles encounter taking place on Friday. The reverse singles will be played on Sunday.
Chile, which lost 3-2 to Russia in the first round of the World Group in February, boasts two superb singles players and an experienced doubles team.
The South Americans are led by Fernando Gonzalez, the world's seventh ranked player, and Nicolas Massu (71), who was ranked as high as ninth in the world in September 2004. Gonzalez and Massu, who won the gold medal at the doubles tournament in the 2004 Athens Olympics, are set to team-up for their country once again at Ramat Hasharon.
"We prefer to focus on our play regardless of who we're facing," Israel captain Eyal Ran said. "Chile is obviously the better side, but we've already beaten two superior teams this year.
"Our players have had excellent summers and won many matches. They are in good shape and have a tendency to excel at Davis Cup ties."
The first and only time Israel and Chile met in the competition was in 1960 in Tel Aviv, when Chileans Pato Rodriguez, Luis Ayala and Ernesto Aguirre scored a 4-1 victory over the hosts.
Dudi Sela, who climbed to a new career best ranking of 105 on Monday, will be Israel's No. 1 singles player with Noam Okun (187) the No. 2.
Sela was knocked out at the first round of the China Open in Beijing on Tuesday, losing 6-2, 6-3 to German Nicolas Kiefer (168).
The 22-year-old Israeli, who is also playing in the doubles tournament in Beijing, will join his Davis Cup teammates as soon as he finishes his participation in the China Open. Chile's No. 1
Gonzalez scraped through to the second round of the tournament, defeating Alexander Pava of Austria 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 on Monday. Gonzalez had lost in the opening round of his previous four tournaments and recorded his first win since Wimbledon.
"I don't recall ever facing such a strong team in the Davis Cup," said Okun, who will be playing his 30th Davis Cup match next Thursday.
"They have two former top 10 players, who are also Olympic gold medalists. I hope to once again raise my play for the occasion. I've recovered from an injury and I'm in good shape. It's a huge honor to represent my country."
Haas to lead Germany against Russia
Tommy Haas and Philipp Kohlschreiber will lead Germany in its Davis Cup semifinal against defending champion Russia later this month.
Haas reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and is ranked No. 10 in the world. Kohlschreiber, No. 33, reached the third round of the US Open.
Germany, a three-time Davis Cup winner, is playing its first semifinal since 1995. The September 21-23 match is at Moscow's Olympic Sports Complex.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer, who won his 12th Grand Slam title Sunday at the US Open, will lead his country against the Czech Republic from September 21-23 on indoor carpet in Prague, the International Tennis Federation announced Tuesday.
The winners of the eight playoffs will play in next year's World Group along with the eight quarterfinalists.
In the Davis Cup semifinals, the United States visits Sweden and defending champion Russia hosts Germany.
Federer ruled himself out of previous Davis Cup matches this year so he could concentrate on keeping his No. 1 ranking. He won three major titles this year - the third time he has done that - and reached the French Open final for the second straight year.
Novak Djokovic, who lost to Federer in straight sets in the US Open final, is also playing when Serbia hosts Australia in a playoff.
AP contributed to this report