Dudi Sela playing Ukraine in Europa/Africa Group I Davis Cup action at Ramat Hasharon..
(photo credit: YONI ARIELI)
Israel’s Davis Cup team is in serious danger of being relegated to Europa/Africa Group II for the first time since 2001 after falling to an unassailable 3-0 deficit to Ukraine in the first round of the Group I Relegation Play-Offs at Ramat Hasharon on Saturday.
Israel was hoping to secure another year in Group I with a home win over the Ukrainians, but instead it was the visitors who were celebrating at Canada Stadium with one day of matches still to come.
Dudi Sela and Edan Leshem didn’t even manage to claim a set in Friday’s singles rubbers and Sela and Yoni Erlich’s comeback from a two-set deficit in Saturday’s doubles encounter ultimately proved to be meaningless, with the Ukrainians winning a fifth-set tie-break to maintain their Group I status.
Israel’s survival in Group I will come down to a tie next month against the loser of the showdown between Austria and Romania.
Austria enters the final day of matches with a 2-1 lead and as a firm favorite to triumph, with its squad boasting world No. 7 Dominic Thiem.
Israel had won the three previous ties it had hosted in the country, not losing at home since falling to Canada in Ramat Hasharon in the World Group playoffs in September 2011. But it was clear the blue-and-white was in deep trouble against Ukraine when Sela, ranked No. 67 in the world, was beaten 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-3 by Illya Marchenko (286) in Friday’s opening contest.
Leshem (290) entered his match against Alexandr Dolgopolov (52) with low expectations and no one was really surprised that the Israeli lost 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.
Sela and Erlich managed to fight back from two sets down against Sergiy Stakhovsky and Denys Molchanov in the doubles, but couldn’t complete the job in the fifth set, eventually falling 7-5, 7-6(6), 1-6, 4-6, 7-6(4) in just over four hours.
“Losing is part of sport, but we should have played a lot better,” said Erlich. “This is one of the most disappointing defeats I have ever experienced at home. We were the better team and we should have found a way to win.”
Captain Eyal Ran tried to draw some encouragement from Sela and Erlich’s fighting spirit.
“We thought the tie would still be alive in the final day,” said Ran.
“The guys gave their all and that is really all we can ask for.”
Ran spoke in defense of Sela, who lost for the third time in four singles rubbers he has played for Israel since the start of 2016.
“There has been a lot of responsibility on Dudi’s shoulders for many years,” explained Ran. “He needs to play day after day. Things didn’t go his way on Friday and he wasn’t able to display his best tennis.
“But he keeps on fighting and would have been ready to play on Sunday if he needed to.”