(photo credit: NIR KEIDAR)
Israel’s Davis Cup team is hoping to improve its excellent record at Canada Stadium in Ramat Hasharon and secure another year in Europa/Africa Group I when it hosts Ukraine in the first round of the Relegation Play-Offs starting from Friday.
The blue-and-white is in danger of dropping to Group II for the first time since 2001 should it lose to Ukraine. The winner will maintain its status, while the loser will play a tie against relegation later this year versus the loser of the showdown between Austria and Romania.
This is the third straight year Israel is fighting for its place in Group I. Israel has won the last three ties it has hosted in the country, not losing at home since falling to Canada in Ramat Hasharon in the World Group playoffs in September 2011.
In fact, since 2007, Israel has only lost two of nine ties played in Ramat Hasharon, with the other defeat coming against Sweden in the first round of the World Group in 2008. The blue-and-white last appeared in the World Group in 2013.
Ukraine will present Israel with a tough challenge this weekend after arriving with its strongest squad, including world No. 52 Alexandr Dolgopolov and Sergiy Stakhovsky (103). The Ukraine team, captained by former world No. 4 Andriy Medvedev, also includes Illya Marchenko (286) and Denys Molchanov (130 in doubles).
Medvedev surprisingly picked Marchenko to play in Friday’s singles opener against Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela (67). The second rubber of the day will see Edan Leshem (290) face Dolgopolov, who reached the fourth round of the US Open last week before losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal.
Sela and Erlich are set to team up in Saturday’s doubles encounter, with Medvedev nominating Stakhovsky and Molchanov.
Sela is scheduled to face Dolgopolov in the first singles match of the final day of action on Sunday, with Leshem and Marchenko currently listed as the players who will contest the possibly decisive fifth rubber.
However, both captains have the option to change their nominations ahead of the matches, meaning Medvedev could well pick the experienced Stakhovsky in place of Marchenko should the tie come down to the final match.
“It is crucial for us to pick up at least one point in the opening day,” said Sela. “I hope I can bring a point and maybe Edan can surprise Dolgopolov. I think we believe in him more than he believes in himself.”
Israel captain Eyal Ran is happy to be playing at Ramat Hasharon once more and is confident the blue-and-white can claim a crucial victory.
“We are very excited to be back at Ramat Hasharon,” said Ran. “They are coming with their strongest squad, but so are we. We will give our best and I believe we will have our chances. I’m feeling good and so are the players.”