Dudi Sela of Israel serves to Sam Querrey of the United States on day three of the US Open tennis tournament.
(photo credit: JERRY LAI-USA TODAY SPORTS VIA REUTERS)
Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela said the blue-and-white Davis Cup team wants to prove that it can overcome any opponent at home when it hosts Ukraine at Ramat Hasharon this weekend in the first round of the Group I Europe/ Africa Relegation Play-Offs.
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, with the team last appearing in the World Group in 2013.
Israel has won the last three ties it has hosted in the country, not losing at home since falling to Canada in the World Group playoffs in September 2011. However, Sela believes the blue-and-white faces an especially tough task this weekend, with Ukraine 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).
Israel will be led by Sela
(67) once more, with Edan Leshem (290) to be the team’s No. 2 player after breaking into the world’s top 300 for the first time in his career this year. Yoni Erlich (107 in doubles) and 21-year-old Mor Bulis (544) complete captain Eyal Ran’s roster.
Yshai Oliel and Igor Smilansky are training with the team, but were not nominated for the tie.
“Both of Ukraine’s players are very good and experienced,” said Sela.
“But at home we raise our level and we want to prove to everyone that we can beat any team at home.”
Sela is set to face Stakhovsky on Friday, with Leshem to play Dolgopolov. The order of the matches will be determined by draw on Thursday. Sela and Erlich are expected to team up for the doubles match on Saturday, with the reverse singles to take place on Sunday.
“I have to win on Friday,” said Sela. “I will give my all like in every Davis tie. Stakhovsky has beaten Roger Federer in Wimbledon so he’s not going to be concerned about the atmosphere, but I think the crowd has an important role to play.”
Medvedev insisted Ukraine isn’t the favorite.
“We are happy to bring our best players to this tie and of course playing with the best players from our country increases our chances to win,” said Medvedev. “We are well prepared for the patriotic crowd and the matches will be tough. We don’t consider ourselves the favorites.”
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