Israeli tennis star Dudi Sela.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s dream of returning to the Davis Cup World Group came to a disappointing ending on Sunday night after Dudi Sela and Bar Botzer both lost in the singles and Argentina claimed a 3-2 victory in the playoff tie in Sunrise, Florida.
The blue-and-white entered the final day of action leading 2-1 and its hopes rested on Sela claiming the crucial third point. However, Sela, ranked No. 84 in the world, suffered a humbling 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 defeat to Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer (25) in the fourth rubber before the inexperienced Botzer (776) dropped to a 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 loss to Carlos Berlocq (67).
Mayer required just one hour and 32 minutes to brush Sela aside. Dudi never found his rhythm, with the Argentine controlling the contest with powerful ground strokes and accurate serving. Mayer ended the match with 40 winners compared to Sela’s seven, while hitting just three more unforced errors (24-21). Sela claimed a mere 13 points on Mayer’s serve throughout the match, with the Argentinian winning 36-of-39 first-serve points.
Despite taking a set off Mayer on Friday, no one realistically expected Botzer to defeat Berlocq and he never really threatened him, meaning Israel will play in Europe/ Africa Zone Group I once more next year.
Israel’s defeat also means that Andy Ram’s career has in all likelihood come to an end.
Ram and Erlich moved Israel to within one win of a return to the World Group on Saturday, claiming a dramatic five-set victory over Horacio Zeballos and Federico Delbonis.
Ram suffered from cramp in the fifth set in what was his first competitive match in over five months after announcing back in April that he will retire following the tie against Argentina. He collapsed to the court and wept uncontrollably after clinching yet another remarkable victory with Erlich, their 16th win from their last 18 matches in the competition since September 2005.
Ram hinted that he may consider extending his career should Israel advance to the World Group, but that seems unlikely now.
“This was certainly the most emotional match of my career,” Ram said. “I couldn’t talk at the end of the match as all the memories from past Davis Cup ties came to mind. I was proud to represent the country over the past 15 years.
“I don’t think there is any chance that I can play another five-set match again, but we will see what happens,” Ram said before Sunday’s action.