Levy off to encouraging start in 2nd act for Israel’s Davis Cup squad
Israel will be entering the tie at the Czech Republic as an underdog, but an upset just might be possible if Levy’s winning mentality rubs off on the squad.
By ALLON SINAI
Harel Levy’s adrenalin rushes no longer come from competing on the tennis court.The excitement from his playing days, which saw him reach a career-best ranking of No. 30 in the world in June 2001, has been replaced by the thrills of the stock market.For the past couple of years, the 39-yearold Levy has worked as a stock trader after initially remaining involved in tennis as the professional director of the Israel Tennis Centers following his retirement seven years ago.After staying away from an active role in the sport for several years, Levy was named as Israel’s Davis Cup captain five months ago when Eyal Ran surprisingly quit following a 5-0 defeat to Ukraine.He guided the team to a 5-0 triumph over Romania a month later to secure Europe/ Africa Group I survival and his reaction after this past weekend’s 3-2 first-round victory in South Africa proved – in case anyone had any doubt – that no commodity surge can compete with the emotions of representing and winning for your country.“I was really excited after this victory,” Levy told The Jerusalem Post after returning home early Monday morning.“Both I and the players were feeling a lot of tension. I had to make sure to say the right things to get the players to maximize their ability and secure what is a very significant victory. We have already ensured ourselves another year in Group I and now we face the Czech Republic in two months for a place in the World Group playoffs.”Israel claimed its first road victory in Davis Cup action in almost four years on Saturday, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat South Africa 3-2 in the first round of Group I at the Irene Country Club in Centurion.Edan Leshem clinched the blue-andwhite’s triumph with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Nicolaas Scholtz in the fifth and decisive rubber on Saturday after Israel unexpectedly trailed 2-1 following a defeat in the doubles encounter.“Even though we were the favorites on paper due to our superior ranking, this was a very tricky tie on the road against a team with dangerous young players,” said Levy.“I’m really happy we managed to complete a comeback from 2-1 down, a mental comeback that is far from straightforward.”Under the Davis Cup’s new rules, all Group I and II ties this year are being held over two days instead of three, with matches being played in a best-of-three sets format rather than best-of-five.That meant Israel No. 1 Dudi Sela only had a short break after losing the doubles match with Yoni Erlich before returning to the court to face Lloyd Harris. Sela looked tired in his third match in 24 hours, but came through with a 7-6 (2), 6-1 victory, before Leshem clinched Israel’s place in the second round.“Dudi had a 30-minute break during which he had to put the defeat and the physical and mental effort in the doubles behind him, take a shower, receive treatment and eat something before starting a new match,” explained Levy. “He was also facing a good young player. But Dudi proved again how much he is willing to give for the national team. He played three matches and eight sets over 18 hours which is far from easy.”Levy’s appointment as captain was not surprising. The timing, however, was unexpected.While it had been clear for a couple of years that Eyal Ran’s reign was nearing its end, no one thought his departure would come in such unceremonious fashion.With Israel already losing any hope of beating Ukraine in the first round of the Europe/Africa Group I Relegation Play-Offs last September, entering the final day of action in an unassailable 3-0 deficit, Ran notified the Israel Tennis Association that he wants to leave the team effective immediately.The next day he was already making his way back to the US, where he lives with his family. The ITA wasted little time in finding a replacement, naming Levy as the new captain after less than 24 hours.Ran took over the team from Oded Jacob in an almost identical situation in 2005. Israel visited Zimbabwe in a tie it had to win to avoid relegation to Group II. Dudi Sela, Noam Okun, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich led the blue-and-white to a 4-1 victory, with Sela and Erlich still around to help the side to a 5-0 triumph over Romania last October in another tie for survival in Group I.While Israel still relies on Dudi and Yoni, Levy believes Leshem proved that he can also be counted on.“I think Edan took a step forward in this tie,” said Levy of the 20-year-old who is ranked at No. 253 in the world. “I think he proved to himself that he can play in the Davis Cup at a high level. There was never any doubt regarding his potential, but to put it all together in a tie like this on the road should help him a lot going forward.”Levy was a natural successor to Ran.Shortly after his playing career peaked in the summer of 2001, he suffered a right hip injury, losing 20 of his next 23 matches, and eventually spending much of the remainder of his career on the Challenger circuit.Nevertheless, he remained an integral part of Israel’s Davis Cup team until his retirement, registering an overall singles record of 20 wins and 16 losses for the blue-andwhite, while helping the national team to its greatest achievement with crucial victories on the way to the semifinals in 2009.“I can’t say that I never thought about one day becoming captain. It certainly went through my head,” noted Levy. “But it didn’t happen the way I thought it would.I’m happy that I managed to rally the players and we saw our strength as a group in the tie in South Africa.”Levy would rather not be compared to Ran under whom he played for many years.“Eyal was an amazing captain,” he said.“He wasn’t in Israel so much to see the players because he lives in the US, so for me it is easier to keep in contact with the players.“Every captain has his own style,” added Levy. “Eyal made sure that the players got everything they needed off the court, while maybe I’m more involved on the professional side while also taking care of everything off court. I think Eyal did an amazing job and I hope I can achieve even half of what he achieved.”Israel will be entering the tie at the Czech Republic on April 6-7 as an underdog, but an upset just might be possible if Levy’s winning mentality rubs off on the squad.“The expectations from us in this tie aren’t very high, but we have expectations from ourselves to play at our very best,” said Levy. “We are always thinking about winning. We are not going there in order to lose.”
var cont = `Sign up for The Jerusalem Post Premium Plus for just $5
Upgrade your reading experience with an ad-free environment and exclusive content