Israel's Davis Cup hopes will rest on Andy Ram's shoulders this weekend as captain Eyal Ran's squad takes on Great Britain in a Europe/Africa Zone Group I relegation tie at the International Lawn Tennis Center in Eastbourne, England.
Ram, who has made a name for himself as a top doubles player, will take the place of injured Dudi Sela in singles against the Brits, and is scheduled to play three best-of-five-set matches in as many days.
Thursday's draw set up Israel's No. 1, Noam Okun (ranked 270 in the world), against Alex Bogdanovic (148) in Friday's opener, with Ram (662) against Scottish star Andy Murray (35) following.
Ram and doubles partner Yoni Erlich are set to face Murray and Jamie Delgado in Saturday's doubles and Sunday will start with Okun vs Murray before Ram meets Bogdanovic.
There were unconfirmed reports late Thursday that Delgado (437) would replace Bogdanovic on Friday, but Israel's non-playing captain Eyal Ran said his team was still preparing to face Bogdanovic.
In a phone conversation from Eastbourne, Ran told The Jerusalem Post, "Our guys have played great in practice this week and we're looking forward to the tie."
Ran feels that the conditions surrounding the tie favor Israel. "They have a lot of young players. The pressure is on them at home, especially on Murray. They expect him to get the result."
As far as the record-breaking heatwave in England, Ran said "it might affect them, but not us. It's just like Tel Aviv."
This is the second year in a row that the two sides are meeting in the Davis Cup. Great Britain, which won 3-2 last March at Ramat Hasharon, holds an all-time 3-0 advantage. The winning team will guarantee itself another year in Group I, while the losing side faces Ukraine in a do-or-die tie in September.
Although the Brits have the higher-ranked singles players, Israel cannot be counted out. Okun always seems to be at his best for Davis Cup matches and last year he defeated Bogdanovic 7-6(3), 6-2, 6-2. Ram has sacrificed his singles career for doubles glory (he and Erlich are seventh in the world), but will look to show that he still has what it takes in one-on-one tennis.
Ram last played singles at a futures event in Ra'anana in March, which he won. On Friday, he will play his first competitive match since winning the Wimbledon mixed doubles title along with Vera Zvonareva nearly two weeks ago.
Ran isn't worried about having Ram play best-of-five matches on three straight days. "We have a good medical staff with us to help him," he said. "Plus, we're playing on grass and the points will be short. Andy's in great form."
Ram is 2-2 all-time in singles matches in the Davis Cup.
The situation in the North is naturally occupying the thoughts of the players - Okun and Erlich are from Haifa. "We rush to see the news after every practice and call home every day," Ran said. "But we want to focus on tennis.
"I didn't need the war to put sports into perspective. With friends and family members of the players sitting in shelters watching them, it touches our hearts. But we are always motivated when we represent Israel."
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