In-form Israel puts Portugal away early

Sela, Weintraub win in singles on Friday to set up Ram/Erlich clincher in Saturday doubles.

ANDY RAM (left) and Yoni Erlich 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
ANDY RAM (left) and Yoni Erlich 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel will be looking to return to the Davis Cup World Group after a three-year absence in September after advancing to the playoffs on Saturday by opening an unassailable 3-0 lead over Portugal in the second round of Europe/Africa Zone Group I at Ramat Hasharon.
Wins in Friday’s singles matches by Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub gave Israel a promising 2-0 lead and Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich secured the blue-and-white’s progress to the World Group playoffs with their ninth win in their past 10 home matches on Saturday, defeating Joao Sousa and Gastao Elias 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
“Had you told me before the tie that we would wrap up the win to the loss of a single set I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m not taking that for granted,” said Israel captain Eyal Ran.
“We are once more one win away from the World Group and if we get a home draw we will have a chance.”
Ram and Erlich struggled to establish their superiority for much of the first set, but a break of serve in the seventh game was all they would need to take the opener.
The second set was also decided by a single break, this time in the third game, and the Israeli duo clinched the win in front of surprise spectator Gilad Schalit by taking the final three games of the match.
The World Group playoffs will take place over the weekend of September 14-16, with Israel to discover its next opponent on Wednesday.
On Friday, Sela, ranked No. 62 in the world, outplayed Frederico Gil (84) on the way to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win before Weintraub (199) defeated an ailing Rui Machado (101) 5-7, 6-3, 6- 1, 7-5.
Sela raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening singles rubber, and after saving break points in the seventh game, served out the set two games later.
The Israeli No. 1 broke Gil at the first time of asking in the second set as well and held his serve to take a 2- 0 advantage.
He remained in control for the remainder of the set and clinched it with a volley winner after an excellent rally.
Sela had to stave off a break point in the fourth game of the third set to tie the score at 2-2 and broke Gil immediately with a backhand winner before eventually holding his serve to love to give Israel a 1-0 lead in the tie.
“It is very hard to play on this court and I also had a little luck in the second set,” Sela said. “The result makes the match looks easier than it was.
“I’ve been feeling good all year, but with the crowd at Ramat Hasharon I always feel great.”
Weintraub struggled to find his rhythm in the first set and Machado clinched the opener with a forehand winner.
Israel’s No. 2 settled in the second set, and although he never really hit top form, he made the most of Machado’s poor play and served out the set in the ninth game after breaking three games earlier.
Weintraub wasted little time in the third set, breaking three times and racing to a 6-1 win, and outlasted Machado in a tight fourth to give Israel a lead Ram and Erlich converted to a win on Saturday.