By the final game of the match, Andy Ram could barely stand on his feet.
After more than five months without a match, he simply couldn’t take the mental and physical strain of playing a five-set contest.
The 34-year-old already announced his retirement back in April, but he continued to train so he would remain in shape for the final chapter of his tennis career.
It was supposed to be a celebratory occasion during which local tennis would pay tribute to one of its greatest ever players.
Around 11,000 fans were set to fill Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv for the World Group playoff tie against Argentina and salute Ram for all that he had given to the local game.
However, Operation Protective Edge and the continuous rocket fire to the center of Israel changed all of that.
Despite relentless pleas by the Israel Tennis Association, the International Tennis Federation ruled that the tie could not take place in Israel, claiming that it was its “duty to ensure the safety of players, officials and spectators, and that there was a lack of certainty as to the security situation in Israel at the date of the tie.”
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Instead of being cheered on by thousands of raucous fans, Israel’s Davis Cup players were forced to settle for some low-key support by several hundred local Jews in Sunrise, Florida, which was eventually chosen as the venue for the tie.
What was supposed to be a dream finale to his career in front of his home crowd, ended with Ram playing over 10,000 kilometers away from home after 14 hours of travel.
Despite the dejection of having to play in Florida and his struggles to remain match-fit, Ram looked surprisingly sharp at the start of Saturday’s doubles encounter against Horacio Zeballos and Federico Delbonis.
Since September 2005, Ram and Yoni Erlich had been almost unbeatable in Davis Cup action, winning 15 of 17 matches together.
They took the first set 6-3, but dropped the second by the same scoreline before racing to a 6-1 triumph in the third set. The Argentinians raced to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set before taking it 6-3 to send the match to a decider.
The Israeli duo recorded the crucial first break of the fifth set in the fourth game, but with the team leading 4-2 captain Eyal Ran called a medical timeout so that Ram could have his legs massaged with ice to treat a muscle strain.
Erlich held serve in the subsequent game to extend Israel’s lead, but it was Ram who had to serve out the match in the ninth game.
It quickly became evident that Ram could do little more than chip his serve over the net.
Israel took the first two points of the game, but it wasn’t long before the Argentinians began to punish Ram’s weak serves, smashing them back for winners to reach two break points.
It was quite clear that should Zeballos and Delbonis break the fading Ram’s serve there would be no way back for the blue-andwhite.
Understanding that his partner was running on fumes, Erlich told him ahead of the game that he should just try and get his first serve in and he would do the rest.
Erlich crowded the net and tried to get his racket on every Argentinian shot, winning points time and again with instinctive volleys and occasionally also with a little luck, with the ball hitting his frame on a couple of instances, including on break point.
Somehow Ram and Erlich held on and, after the Argentinians sent the ball into the net on match point, Ram collapsed to the court and wept uncontrollably before being hoisted aloft by his teammates and coaching staff.
“If I try to describe what I’m feeling I will cry,” said Erlich, with the weeping Ram standing beside him. “I just wanted the final game to end. Andy could hardly stand on his feet at the end. We were very lucky. It was really a miracle.”
After finally regaining his composure, Ram spoke about the emotional high.
“This was certainly the most emotional match of my career,” Ram said.
“When we are on court together magic happens. I served at 40 miles per hour and I sent Yoni on a suicide mission. I couldn’t talk at the end of the match as all the memories from past Davis Cup ties flooded my mind. I was proud to represent the country over the past 15 years.”
Ran paid tribute to Israel’s greatest doubles partnership, which finished its Davis Cup career with a 19-5 record.
“They will no doubt be counted as one of the great Davis Cup doubles teams when the next chapter in the history books comes to be written,” he said. “It has been my great privilege to be by their side and watch and help them achieve what they have done for the team and Israeli sport.”
Saturday’s triumph was the last on a long list of memorable victories by Ram and Erlich in the competition. There was the five-hour five-set thriller against Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu of Chile in 2007.
That match ended just an hour before the start of Yom Kippur and ultimately helped Israel win the tie and return to the World Group for the first time since 1994.
No Israeli tennis fan will ever forget the fiveset victory over Russia’s Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn which historically clinched Israel’s place in the semifinals of the competition in 2009.
The win over Tatsuma Ito and Yuichi Sugita of Japan in 2012 was crucial to Israel’s most-recent return to the World Group, but also brought about the premature ending to Ram’s career.
Ram overcame almost debilitating pain in that match in Tokyo and he was forced to undergo career-saving surgery on his right hip a month later. He was never the same player.
Ram returned to the courts six months later, and despite winning two Challenger Tour titles with Erlich, he couldn’t come close to his pre-injury form. He played his final match on the professional tour in January, losing with Erlich in the first round of the Australian Open, the sight of their Grand Slam triumph six years earlier.
However, despite his physical struggles and his decision to call it a day, Ram managed to give Israel fans one last roller-coaster win to celebrate on Saturday.
Israel couldn’t go on and translate a 2-1 lead to victory over Argentina, losing the tie 3-2 and being condemned to Europe/Africa Zone Group I for another year.
Nevertheless, Ram ensured he left behind one more priceless memory before stepping off the court for the last time, likely symbolizing the end of a golden era for Israel’s Davis Cup team.
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