Davis Cup Tennis: Israel on the ropes after doubles defeat

Outside Malmo arena, Swedish police kept busy with protesters trying to storm the spectator-free event; Levy and Sela will both have to win on Sunday to capture tie.

ram erlich lose in davis match 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
ram erlich lose in davis match 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel's Davis Cup team will need to win both of the reverse singles on Sunday in Malmo or its hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of the competition for the second time in its history, and for the first time since 1987, will end in bitter disappointment for a second straight year. Dudi Sela (63 in the world) will meet 34-year-old Swede Thomas Johansson (178) in the first match of the day and if he wins, Harel Levy (241) and unranked Andreas Vinciguerra will face off in a decisive fifth match. On Saturday, Simon Aspelin and Robert Lindstedt gave Sweden a 2-1 lead in the World Group first round tie after defeating Andy Ram and Amir Hadad, who played in place of the injured Yoni Erlich, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, while demonstrators clashed with police outside the near-empty arena. Last year, Sweden came back from 2-1 down against Israel in the final day of the first round encounter at Ramat Hasharon to claim a 3-2 victory. Police held off dozens of anti-Israel protesters who tried to storm the barricades outside the 4,000-seat Baltic Hall. The players found out about the melee after the match. "We knew there were going to be a few thousand people screaming out there," Ram said. "Inside here we didn't feel anything. The police did a good job." Only 300 special guests were allowed inside the hall to watch Ram and Hadad save two match points before Lindstedt's drop shot winner clinched the match. Malmo officials had closed the venue to the public, citing security risks and protests against Israel because of the recent offensive in the Gaza Strip. The clashes erupted after about 7,000 people gathered at a downtown square to hear speeches condemning Israel's offensive in Gaza and urging support for Palestinians. Organizers of the "stop the match" protest had said the demonstration would be peaceful, but extreme-left activists had vowed to disrupt the match. About 100 people were apprehended and at least six were formally arrested for rioting, Malmo police spokeswoman Ewa Westford said. There were no reports of injuries. About 1,000 police from southern Sweden were deployed in Malmo, Sweden's third largest city, to keep the protesters from entering the arena. The Israelis rallied after dropping the first set on Saturday but Aspelin and Lindstedt raised their game in the third. "They played a good tiebreak to win the third set," Ram said. "And they didn't give us any chances in the fourth." The Swedes, who were favored to win the doubles, were relieved to head into the reverse singles on Sunday with a one-point advantage. "If we hadn't won this match, things would have looked more difficult on Sunday," Lindstedt said. On Friday, Johansson, playing his first match since October, beat Levy 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6, and Sela evened the series after another five-set epic, beating Vinciguerra 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9. Johansson's lack of practice showed in the opening match. The 2002 Australian Open champion made 65 unforced errors - 20 in the first set. After dropping the first set in a tiebreaker, Johansson rebounded in the next two sets but lost his momentum with a flurry of unforced errors in the fourth. The final set turned into a thriller as the players stayed level until 6-6. Johansson broke Levy's serve and held his own to put the hosts ahead. "I'm completely exhausted. I emptied everything I had," Johansson said with his left foot wrapped in ice. Sela proved the strongest in a marathon baseline battle with Vinciguerra, who is unranked having not played on the ATP tour since 2006. The Swede saved a match point at 5-4 before breaking Sela's serve to keep the match alive in the final set. But at 9-9, Vinciguerra double-faulted and volleyed into the net to give Sela the decisive break. Sela held his serve to level the tie, but Israel will enter Sunday's reverse singles trailing 2-1 after Saturday's doubles loss. Sweden's captain Mats Wilander is an optimistic mood ahead of Sunday's matches. "I think we are favorites to win at least one single. In my opinion Vinciguerra will give Levy a hard time dominating with his forehand. And Thomas doesn't have to feel so tight after watching Vinci play so well. "The good thing is that he always will have the chance to break Sela's serve over and over again", Wilander said. Israel's captain Eyal Ran is hopeful his team can make history by turning the match around like Sweden did when the sides met last year and despite the defeat in the doubles Ram also remains confident. "It doesn't look very good at the moment, but I think that Harel and Dudi are physically stronger than the Swedes," Ram said. "I believe in the team and I will do all I can from the sideline to help claim these two important points." AP contributed to this report