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(photo credit: AP [file])
Despite barely playing together in the past 10 months, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich believe they can regain their past form in time for next weekend's Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against Russia at the Nokia Arena.
Erlich missed eight months through elbow injury and, since his return to action two months ago, has only played in one Challenger tournament with Ram, after the latter chose to continue his successful partnership with Max Mirnyi.
"I'm sure the spark will be back as soon as we begin training together," Erlich said on Thursday ahead of the team's first official training session on Friday. "I'm in good shape and I feel 100 percent healthy."
Ram was confident the two can give Israel the important doubles point.
"We are both professional players of a high level and for six years we played together so I believe our connection will be the same," Ram said.
"We need to bring the team this point. We can't ignore that. It will be an amazing experience to play in front of so many fans."
The Russian team, which is expected to include Dmitry Tursunov (22 in the world), Marat Safin (24), Igor Andreev (26) and Mikhail Youzhny (44), will arrive in Israel on Sunday, and national team captain Eyal Ran believes the visitors will be the favorites despite the fact they will be coming without their top player, world number 11, Nikolay Davydenko.
"Russia is the favorite on paper, but when we play at home in front of our fans our players excel," Ran said. "All the Russian players are very good, but we are concentrating on our preparations and we will be doing everything possible so that our players will be in optimal shape."
Harel Levy (219) is set to be Israel's number 2 player behind Dudi Sela (46) when the tie starts next Friday and he is hoping to once more help the team with a crucial win.
"The victory in Sweden gave me back the confidence I once had," said Levy, who clinched the 3-2 first round win over Sweden with a thrilling five set victory in the decisive rubber. "Every tie at this stage is tough, but we believe in our team."
With all due respect to Levy, Israel has little chance of winning without Sela at his best.
"Wimbledon gave me a lot of confidence. I'm playing well and I always raise my level of play in the Davis Cup," Sela said. "We feel we can beat the Russians."