Tennis: Ram and Erlich claim historic victory

The duo become the first Israeli team to win a Grand Slam after not dropping a set in Melbourne.

erlich ram 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
erlich ram 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich's magical run at the Australian Open came to a perfect ending on Saturday morning in Melbourne. The Israeli duo defeated Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement 7-5, 7-6 (4) in the final of the men's doubles tournament and celebrated like only they know how. After the French duo sent the ball into the net on match point, Ram lifted his partner in the air before Erlich returned the favor by giving Ram a piggy-back ride round the Rod Laver Arena centre court. "This is an unbelievable moment. It's a great, great moment for us," Ram said after the match. "I've won two Grand Slams in the mixed doubles, but that's not even close to what I'm feeling at the moment." "I've been waiting for this moment since I was born," an emotional Erlich said after the two accepted the trophy. "It's an amazing experience. As a kid looking at the TV, watching the Grand Slams, I never believed I'd be here. It's an amazing tournament. It has an amazing atmosphere. It's an amazing title to win." To add to the sense of achievement, Ram and Erlich won the title without losing a set during the whole tournament, defeating Kunitsyn/Tursunov, Lipsky/Martin, ninth seeds Cermak/Dlouhy, Gicquel/Santoro and sixth seeds Bhupathi/Knowles en route to the final. Up until last week the Israeli duo had only advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament twice in 18 tournaments. All the pieces, however, fell into place in the last two weeks and Ram and Erlich became the first Israeli team to win a Grand Slam event. The only other Israeli man to advance to a Grand Slam men's doubles final was Shlomo Glickstein, who reached the 1985 Roland Garros final with Hans Simonsson. Ram, who won the mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2006 and Roland Garros in 2007, said after the win that he always believed that he and Erlich could win a major. "We're so happy to be the first Israelis. We made history today. We believed we could win the Grand Slam title. We really believed in this," Ram said. "We believed we are one of the best teams in the world. It's a great day for us, for our family, for Israel, for everybody." Ram and Erlich broke Llodra's serve in the opening game of the match and saved three break points in the sixth game to open a 4-2 lead. In the subsequent game the Israeli duo led 40-15 on Clement's serve, but the heavens opened at that crucial moment and the match had to be suspended. Play resumed after the roof was closed and Clement managed to hold serve. The Frenchmen built on their newly found momentum and tied the match (5-5) with a break of serve in the 10th game. Ram and Erlich, however, broke back immediately and held serve to claim the first set. Both teams failed to convert their break points in the second set and it would have to be decided on a tiebreak. Llodra and Clement won three of the first four points in the breaker, but Ram and Erlich would claim six of the next seven to secure an historic victory. "We played our best tennis ever in this tournament. We came with the right attitude, we were ready to win a Grand Slam," Ram said. "We played every point as if it was a match point in the final. We played every point the same, without losing concentration, without losing energy." On Friday, Shahar Pe'er and Belarusian partner Victoria Azarenka lost 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 to Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko in the women's doubles final. "I'm very disappointed that we suffered such a drop in form in a Grand Slam final," Pe'er said after the loss. "We made silly mistakes and lost critical points. They were more consistent than us and it's a shame we woke up too late in the third set." Breaks in the fourth and sixth games gave the Israeli/Belarusian duo an easy first set win, but the Ukrainian sisters would go on to claim 11 of the next 14 games to come within one game of the title. Pe'er and Azarenka managed to close the deficit to 5-4, but the Bondarenko's would clinch the title in the following game after holding serve. Also Friday, Ram and Nathalie Dechy lost 6-4, 6-2 to Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi in the semifinals of the mixed doubles tournament.