Blue-and-white returns to world’s elite 16

Israel awaits Wednesday’s World Group draw after Weintraub’s heroics vs Japan.

Amir Weintraub 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Amir Weintraub 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel will discover who it faces in the first round of the 2013 Davis Cup World Group on Wednesday after its dramatic playoff victory against Japan over the weekend.
Israel will be one of the eight unseeded teams in the draw in London and will play one of the world’s top eight ranked nations over the weekend of February 1-3, 2013.
The blue-and-white will face either: Spain (home), Czech Republic (away), Argentina (home), Serbia (away), France (away), United States (draw), Croatia (draw) or Kazakhstan (draw).
Eyal Ran’s men will be crossing their fingers to be paired with Kazakhstan, hopefully at home, with the other seven possible opponents to be overwhelming favorites to advance to the quarterfinals should they be drawn against Israel.
However, it remains to be seen how many of the world’s top players end up taking part in next February’s ties as they will be taking place only five days after the end of the Australian Open.
“Any team we receive in the draw is going to be tough so I’m hoping the tie will at least be played in Israel,” said Amir Weintraub, who led Israel to the win over Japan.
An heroic performance by Weintraub on Sunday booked Israel’s return to the World Group after a two-year absence.
Weintraub overcame cramp and a player ranked 170 places above him to give Israel a 3-2 victory over Japan in Tokyo, beating Go Soeda 6-3, 7-6 (5), 4- 6, 6-3 in the fifth and decisive rubber.
“Truth is, my entire body is aching, but I’m very happy, although it has yet to really sink in,” Weintraub said upon his return to Israel on Tuesday.
“I will take a few days to rest before getting back on tour and hopefully will gain some ranking points before the end of the year. I only have two more tournaments to play in 2012, the next is in three weeks time, and I need a few days at home to rest after being abroad for three months. I hope I can build on this and continue the momentum.”
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 performance.
However, Dudi Sela suffered a heartbreaking 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 loss to Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori after a classic match which lasted 4 hours and 31 minutes, 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, who climbed nine places to No. 214 in the world on Monday, opened a two-set lead 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 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.”