(photo credit: ISRAEL TENNIS ASSOCIATION)
Israel secured itself another year in Davis Cup Europe/Africa Group I on Saturday, opening an unassailable 3-0 lead over Slovenia with a dominant performance at the Drive-In Arena in Tel Aviv.
The blue-and-white was facing the prospect of playing a tie against relegation to Group II after suffering a humbling 5-0 defeat to Romania in March, the first time it had lost in the first round of Group I since 2006.
However, it bounced back in style against Slovenia, wrapping up the win with a day to spare after Dudi Sela and Ben Patael defeated Grega Zemlja and Aljaz Radinski 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in the doubles encounter on Saturday.
Edan Leshem was supposed to team up with Sela, but 18-year-old Patael was notified on Saturday morning that he will be playing in his place as Leshem had to be hospitalized due to a suspected case of food poisoning.
“The captain called me in the morning to tell me I was playing and it took me a few moments to understand what was happening,” said Patael. “Dudi took control and helped me calm down.”
Israel captain Eyal Ran was delighted with the duo’s performance. “It isn’t easy to play doubles together for the first time, but they both showed what they are capable of. It is a dream to hold a 3-0 lead on Saturday,” he said. “Everyone was so committed and gave their all and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Sela, ranked No. 90 in the world, gave Israel a 1-0 lead by crushing Nik Razborsek (714) 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in the opening rubber on Friday, and following an emotional ceremony honoring the retired Andy Ram, Amir Weintraub (436) survived a scare before beating Zemlja (301) 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 6-7, 6-4.
Despite the absence of Yoni Erlich, who is set to miss 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear last week, Israel ensured it will not return to Group II for the first time since 2002 in what was its first tie in the country in more than three years.
“I would have had no chance without these fans,” said Weintraub, who made his return to the Davis Cup after more than a year following a lengthy injury layoff. “I began running out of energy in the third set and I wouldn’t have managed to fight back in the fifth without the support.”
On TV: Davis Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I: Israel vs Slovenia (live on Sport5 from 1 p.m.)
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