okun gonzales 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel's Davis Cup team was in a surprisingly confident mood during its final training session on Wednesday evening, less then 24 hours before it begins the World Group playoff tie against a strong Chile side at Ramat Hasharon.
World No. 6 Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu (72), who was ranked as high as ninth in the world in September 2004, give the visitors a massive advantage in the singles matches. Israel, however, has won its last three Davis Cup ties and is just one win away from advancing to the World Group for the first time since 1994.
The national team, which reached the playoff tie by defeating Luxembourg and Italy in February and April's Europe/Africa Group I ties, will be desperate to win at least one of Thursday's singles matches, knowing that an early 2-0 deficit will be almost impossible to overturn.
Dudi Sela, who is ranked at a career best No. 105, plays Massu in the first match of the day, with Noam Okun (186) facing Gonzalez later Thursday.
"Obviously Chile is the favorite, but Italy was also supposed to beat us. We like being the underdog," Sela said on Wednesday. "I'm very pleased with the fact that I'm playing first and I'm very confident of claiming the win. I had an excellent summer on tour and I hope I will win so Noam can be more relaxed and confident against Gonzalez."
Interestingly, Chile's captain Hans Gildemeister was also pleased by the fact that Massu will play the first match on Thursday.
"It is very clear to us that all the pressure is on Israel, because it knows that the tie will be over if it doesn't claim a point on Thursday," he said. "Massu had an entire week to train in Israel and I'm certain we will be getting points from him in this tie."
Massu has only won two of his last 11 matches on the ATP tour and the outcome of his matches at Ramat Hasharon will likely be the key to the result of the entire tie.
Despite being an overwhelming favorite in both of his singles matches, Gonzalez was keen to stress on Wednesday that the tie is wide open.
"The media claims that Chile will definitely be getting two points from me and that the Israelis are counting on two points from victories over Massu and another point in the doubles," he said. "However, neither of these assumptions are correct as every point in this tie can go either way."
Gonzalez, who lost to Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, regained his excellent form last week, winning the Beijing tournament. The Chilean had previously lost four consecutive first round matches in his worst slump of the year.
In Friday's doubles match Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, who are placed in sixth position in the ATP's doubles race, face Gonzalez and Massu, who won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic doubles tournament. The tie will be completed on Sunday with the reverse singles, with Sela first facing Gonzalez and Okun playing Massu later in the day.
The first and only time Israel and Chile met was in 1960 in Tel Aviv, when Chileans Pato Rodriguez, Luis Ayala and Ernesto Aguirre scored a 4-1 victory over the hosts.
Chile, which lost 3-2 to Russia in the first round of the World Group in February, is looking for a swift return to the top 16, but Ram is confident that this weekend Israel will end its 13 year drought.
"We feel ready and we expect a lot from ourselves," he said. "Our goal in the first day is to claim one point. Yoni and I will be favorites on Friday to give the team a 2-1 lead ahead of the final day when we hope to complete the victory."
On TV: Israel vs Chile (live at 1 p.m. on Sport 5)
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