For the past few years, it became common to call the doubles pairing of Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich Israel's sure point in Davis Cup play. But for the first time this weekend, they became Israel's only point.
Dudi Sela lost the crucial fourth rubber 6-1, 6-2, 7-6(3) to teenager Novak Djokovic and Noam Okun fell 7-6(10), 6-4 to Janko Tipsarevic in the meaningless fifth rubber as Serbia-Montenegro defeated Israel 4-1 to advance to the next round in Davis Cup Europe/Africa zone, Group I.
Serbia-Montenegro advances to face Great Britain in Glasgow in the next round in April. The Israeli team will have its fingers crossed for the Serbians in that tie, since a victory for the visiting team will send Israel to Great Britain for a playoff tie in July. If the British team wins, Israel will next face the loser of the Ukraine-Belgium tie.
Only a few hundred fans showed up at Canada Stadium in Ramat Hasharon for the final two matches of the tie and they all came away disappointed. Serbia's rising star Djokovic, who is ranked 70th in the world, dominated Sela (170) for two-and-a-half sets before Sela gave the fans something to cheer about.
Sela only held his service game once in the first two sets, while Djokovic - in a far less impressive match than Friday against Okun - coasted.
However, with a 5-2 lead in the third set, Djokovic started to struggle. Sela won four games in a row - including 10 straight points during one stretch - before Djokovic rebounded and forced a tiebreaker.
By then he regained his composure and took the match.
"Dudi came back when all seemed lost," non-playing captain Eyal Ran summed up. "Djokovic played well, but suddenly he began to feel the pressure and Dudi started to play free. He was close to coming back."
Although disappointed by the final result, Ran feels it could have been different, pointing to the fact that his team went 0-for-4 in tiebreakers throughout the tie.
"We could have played much better... I just hope that Noam and Dudi will learn from their defeats just as Andy and Yoni did last year."
When asked about Sela's weaknesses, Ran said, "It is mental and physical, but his serve is the weakest part of his game." Djokovic broke Sela's serve three times in each set.
Serbian captain Dejan Petrovic said he wasn't surprised by the result, but "it's one thing to to know you can do it and another to do it."
Petrovic also promised, "The future for Serbian tennis is bright."