Davis Cup star Harel Levy returns to hero's welcome

"We had to put aside all the protests and focus on our job on court," says tennis star.

harel levy 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
harel levy 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Harel Levy returned to Israel to a hero's welcome on Monday, less than 24 hours after winning the fifth and decisive match to give Israel a place in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup with a memorable 3-2 victory over Sweden. While Dudi Sela, who climbed five places to number 58 in the world, was expected to win both his matches over the weekend, Levy overcame not only Sweden's Andreas Vinciguerra, but also years of criticism regarding his mental strength. The 30-year-old Levy entered Sunday's match without a Davis Cup singles victory since 2005, losing his last five encounters, including the decisive rubber against Sweden at Ramat Hasharon last year. "I had a coach who always told me that I'm a winner and that I will always be one. The press labeled me as a loser when I wasn't doing well and now they say I'm a winner. I know my worth and I proved to myself that I can still win big matches," Levy said at Ben-Gurion Airport. "I'm still tired. It was a very tough match both mentally and physically. It was a tight match which could have gone either way," Levy added. "It was important for me to win for the team after letting them down last year." Levy, who climbed 22 places to number 219 in the world on Monday, also spoke about the hostile atmosphere in Sweden. "We had to put aside all the protests and focus on our job on court. A Swedish player told me at the start of the week that he was embarrassed to be a Swede this week. We knew all about the protests, but that's their problem not ours. I'm proud to represent the country and Israeli tennis." Oded Jacob, a former captain of the Israeli Davis Cup team and Levy's coach, said the hostile atmosphere only spurred the Israelis on. "The feeling that you are isolated, that everyone outside is protesting against you, definitely gave the team more motivation," Jacob said Monday. "I think it is natural. In that situation it makes you want to play harder for your country, for your flag." Israel will face Russia in the quarterfinals at home over the weekend of July 10-12. Russia is "a team of a completely different caliber," Jacob said, but added, "anything is possible." Levy also believes Israel has a chance against the superior Russian team, which has eight players in the top-100. "Russia is one of the most decorated teams in the competition, but I'm sure that with a full Ramat Hasharon we can beat any team in the world," Levy said. "In the doubles we are almost always the favorites and Sela is also worth at least one point in any tie, so what seems to be an impossible mission can end up being a tight affair. "I believe we can do it against Russia."