(photo credit: )
A heroic display by Dudi Sela on Sunday secured Israel a spot in the Davis Cup World Group for the first time since 1994.
In one of the greatest performances by an Israeli at Ramat Hasharon, Sela, who is ranked No. 105 in the world, defeated world No. 6 Fernando Gonzalez 4-6, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3 in a five hour nail biter in front of a raucous partisan crowd.
"This is a massive day for me and for Israeli tennis in general," said Sela, who was congratulated over the phone by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres after the match.
"This was the best match of my career and my first victory over a top 10 player. We made history today and now the sky is the limit."
Israel will not have to wait long to discover who it faces in the World Group, with the draw for the first round, which will be played in February 2008, taking place on Thursday.
"I said at the beginning of the year that we have a team capable of reaching the World Group," Andy Ram said.
"We always believed that we belonged in the world's top 16 and now we've done it," Yoni Erlich added. "We proved that with faith and willpower you can achieve any goal. That was the key to this victory."
The national team, which reached the playoff tie by defeating Luxembourg and Italy in February and April's Europe/Africa Group I ties, has won just one tie in its previous appearances in the World Group, defeating Czechoslovakia 3-2 in 1987.
Both players held serve comfortably in the first four games of the match, but Gonzalez picked up his play in the fifth game and broke after Sela sent his backhand long. A love hold gave the Chilean a 5-3 lead and a wayward backhand by Sela in the 10th game wrapped up the first set for Gonzalez.
The Chilean solidified his lead at the start of the second set and opened a 2-0 advantage, breaking in the first game and holding to love in the subsequent game. Three straight games for Sela turned the second set on its head as the Israeli found his rhythm and began to dictate the play.
The 22-year-old Israeli reached two break points in the 10th game, but Gonzalez held serve with a forehand winner and the set would have to eventually be decided on a tiebreak. Sela opened an early lead in the breaker and tied the match after taking two points on the trot to win 7-5.
Gonzalez raced to a 3-0 lead in the third set, but once more allowed Sela back into the set, with the Israeli winning four of the next five games to tie the score at 4-4.
The Chilean, however, would not be denied for a second straight set and he clinched the set with a volley winner in the 12th game.
Despite reaching several break points neither player managed to break in the fourth set and a tiebreak was needed to decide the winner.
Sela looked sharp at the start of the breaker, but Gonzalez fought back to tie the score at 5-5.
The Chilean was within two points of the win, but Sela forced a fifth set with superb play which forced Gonzalez to send his forehand long on set point.
Sela was certain he had taken a 2-0 lead in the fifth set after the line judge called a ball out. However, the judge corrected himself and Gonzalez won the replayed point and eventually tied the score at 1-1. The Israeli, however, finally got the break he so desperately wanted and deserved in the fourth game after Gonzalez put his half-volley into the net.
The Chilean was worn out both physically and mentally and Sela held his serve for the remainder of the match to secure a famous victory.
Sunday's second match ended after just 14 minutes, with Noam Okun retiring with a hand injury against Paul Capdeville, awarding the Chileans the dead rubber.
"The guys did an excellent job and defeated a superb team," Israel captain Eyal Ran said. "I hope we get a home draw. We saw this weekend how much our players excel when playing at home. Dudi secured the victory, but the team as a whole deserves the win."
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>