Davis Cup: Israel has Austria on brink of defeat

Andy and Yoni prevail, setting stage for Sela or Levy to clinch tie for blue-and-white.

Ram Erlich 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Ram Erlich 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel’s Davis Cup team needs one victory from Sunday’s two remaining singles matches against Austria to maintain its World Group status for a fourth straight year.
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich gave Israel a 2-1 lead in the playoff tie at the Nokia Arena on Friday with a 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya, bringing the blue-and-white within one point of clinching the best-of-five tie and remaining among the world’s top 16 nations for another year.
Dudi Sela, ranked 85th in the world, faces Melzer (No.13) in the first of Sunday’s matches, with Harel Levy (223) set to play Andreas Haider-Maurer (180) in the fifth and decisive encounter, with Austrian captain Gilbert Schaller also considering replacing Haider-Maurer with Martin Fischer (134) or Peya.
“Ram and Erlich displayed excellent tennis at the right moments,” Israel captain Eyal Ran said on Friday. “We are expecting two tough matches on Sunday, but I believe either Dudi or Harel will get us the point we need.
We are leading 2-1 and we are in a good position to clinch the tie.”
Sela’s match against Melzer bears many similarities to a match in which the Israeli earned one of the greatest victories of his career, over Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez three years ago.
Israel returned to the World Group after a 14 year absence following its 3-2 victory over Chile in September 2007, with Ram and Erlich giving the team a 2-1 lead just an hour prior to the start of Yom Kippur, before Sela claimed a memorable win over the then world No. 6 Gonzalez to clinch the tie.
Like Gonzalez, Melzer, the world No. 13, is also ranked far higher than his Israeli opponent and will be the firm favorite entering the match after reaching the semifinals at Roland Garros and the last 16 at Wimbledon and the US Open in in recent months.
“Sela is a good player and he will have the support of the fans,” Melzer said. “I beat him in three easy sets at Roland Garros, but this is a completely different situation.
Nevertheless, I still believe I’m a good enough player to beat him.”
Ran is confident Sela can defy the odds and get the better of Melzer to maintain Israel’s place in the World Group.
“I believe Dudi will come up with the goods against Melzer,” Ran said. “Melzer lost in the doubles and he could lose to Sela as well.”
Ram and Erlich got Friday’s doubles match off to a shaky start, losing their serve in the first game of the morning.
However, they broke back immediately, and after squandering break points in the sixth and eighth games, dominated the tiebreaker, claiming it 7-2 to take the first set. The Austrians raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set and were up 4-1 after holding their serve to love.
Ram and Erlich came right back, however, reeling off five straight games to take the set 6-4 and open a significant lead.
There was no stopping the Israeli duo after that, with Ram and Erlich breaking in the first game of the third set and maintaining their lead before taking the set 6-4 and wrapping up the match after 2 hours and 28 minutes.
“I’ve been suffering with a knee injury for the past month-and-a-half and I didn’t even know if I would be able to make this tie,” said Ram, who together with Erlich converted four of eight break points, hitting 76 winners throughout the match.
“Luckily for me, the match was over quickly. However, we must remember that the tie isn’t over yet and we have to make sure to complete the job on Sunday.”
Davis Cup World Group playoff Israel vs Austria (winners in bold) Israel leads 2-1 heading into Sunday’s final matches Thursday Dudi Sela (ISR) defeated Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT) 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 Jurgen Melzer (AUT) defeated Harel Levy (ISR) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 Friday Yoni Erlich/Andy Ram (ISR) defeated Jurgen Melzer/Alexander Peya (AUT) 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 Sunday Dudi Sela (ISR) vs Jurgen Melzer (AUT) Harel Levy (ISR) vs Andreas Haider-Maurer or captain’s pick (AUT)