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(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel's Davis Cup team will face Italy at the start of April for a place in the World Group playoffs, after Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich defeated Laurent Bram and Mike Scheidweiler 7-6, 6-0, 6-3, on Saturday at Ramat Hasharon and gave their team an unassailable 3-0 lead against Luxemburg.
Noam Okun and Dudi Sela gave Israel a 2-0 lead on Friday, defeating Gilles Kremer and Gilles Muller, respectively.
Ram and Erlich didn't disappoint on Saturday, winning easily and booking the side's place in the second round of the Europe/Africa Zone Group I.
"I can't wait to play Italy," Ram said after securing Israel's win against Luxemburg. "The Italians are more experienced than us and have four players in the top 100. Italy is the best side we've played in the last decade and it's going to be a tough tie. We won't be favorites in any of the matches, but with the Israeli fans we have a chance to defeat them."
Israeli No. 1 Okun, who is ranked No. 169 in the world, got the team off to a perfect start Friday afternoon when he annihilated Kremer (1,418) 6-0, 6-0, 6-1.
"I'm not used to winning so easily," Okun said Friday. "My level of play was much higher then his and I'm much more experienced."
Friday's second singles match was much more balanced, with Israel's No. 2 Sela (173) facing Luxemburg's best, Muller (128).
Muller got the first break in the sixth game of the first set, but Sela broke back in the following game and kept the set close. Muller kept his composure and continued to display solid tennis, breaking Sela again in the 10th game to take the set 6-4.
Sela raised his level of play at the start of the second set, breaking to love in the first game and grabbing a 2-0 lead with a solid volley in the second game. The single break of serve was all the Israeli needed and his good serving secured him the second set 6-4.
Sela gained confidence after tying the match and broke twice in the third set, winning 6-2.
After splitting the first six games of the fourth set, the match had to be stopped for two hours because of rain, disappointing Sela, who had momentum. The players continued to exchange games after the rain delay and the set had to be decided on a tiebreak.
Sela was by far the superior player in the breaker, winning it 7-1 and giving Israel a 2-0 lead.
"Okun and I played very well today," Sela said. "I've been playing well for three months and I'm glad I got the win. All my friends from the North came to watch and there was an amazing atmosphere."
Knowing that a win in the doubles match would give their team the victory, Ram and Erlich stormed to a 3-0 lead against Bram and Scheidweiler. Despite being huge underdogs against one of the best doubles teams in the world, Bram and Scheidweiler reeled off three consecutive games to tie the score. The set remained tight until the end, but Ram and Erlich won it 7-6 on a tense tiebreaker.
Ram and Erlich easily won six games to win the second set 6-0.
The third set was again dominated by Ram and Erlich, who took the set 6-3, making sure Sunday's singles matches will be dead rubbers.
Israel will host Italy the first weekend in April and Ram is confident that this could be the team's year.
"I said after the draw that I have a good feeling about 2007," he said. "We got a comfortable draw with two home ties and one of them is already behind us. The team isn't getting any younger and I believe that 2007 is our chance to reach the World Group."