Amir Weintraub 370.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
An heroic performance by Amir Weintraub on Sunday booked Israel's return to the Davis Cup World Group after a two-year absence.
Weintraub overcame cramp and a player ranked 170 places above him to give Israel a 3-2 playoff victory over Japan in Tokyo, beating Go Soeda 6-3, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3 in the fifth and decisive rubber.
Israel entered the final day of action at the Ariake Coliseum in a 2-1 lead after Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich won Saturday's doubles encounter with a gutsy display.
However, Dudi Sela (98 in the world) suffered a heartbreaking 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 loss to Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori (16) in the first match on Sunday, which was an instant 4 hour and 31 minute classic, meaning the tie would have to be decided in a fifth and final match.
Since falling 4-1 to Chile in March 2010 and dropping out of the World Group, Israel had twice just missed out on regaining its place among the world's top 16 nations, losing at home in the fifth and final rubber to Austria in 2011 and to Canada last year.
However, Weintraub took the extra step for the blue-and-white on Sunday.
After claiming a surprise win on Friday, Weintraub, ranked just No. 223 in the world, opened a quick two-set lead over Soeda (53) thanks to a superb start.
Soeda fought back to take the third set and had a break point in the first game of the fourth set, with Weintraub visibly suffering from cramp in his left leg.
However, the weather would come to Weintraub's rescue, with a rain break allowing the Israeli, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Sunday, to receive treatment in the dressing room.
The crucial break in the fourth set arrived in the fourth game and Weintraub held his cool to clinch the most memorable win of his career.
"Last year I beat Raonic of Canada in the Davis Cup on my birthday and this year I helped the team to the World Group, hopefully next year I can celebrate with a win in the semifinals," an overjoyed Weintraub said. "We may not deserve to be in the World Group when you consider our rankings, but we deserve it because of our heart."