Dudi Sela squashes Andreas Haider-Maurer in opener, but Harel Levy can’t get the better of Jurgen Melzer.
By ALLON SINAI
Israel’s Davis Cup World Group playoff tie against Austria remains finely balanced entering Friday’s doubles match after the first day of play at the Nokia Arena ended on Thursday tied at 1-1.Dudi Sela, ranked number 85 in the world, gave Israel a 1-0 lead with a convincing 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer (180), but Austria’s No. 1 Jurgen Melzer (13) was far too good for Harel Levy (223) in the second match of the day, claiming a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory to even the score.Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich face Melzer and Alexander Peya in the crucial doubles match on Friday morning, with the tie that began a day earlier than the other playoff encounters due to the fact Yom Kippur falls on Saturday, to be completed on Sunday with the reverse singles.“I knew that I had to win this match,” said Sela, who hit 39 winners and benefited from Haider-Maurer’s 64 unforced errors in the 2 hour and 19 minute long encounter. “I wanted to win so badly that it affected my game. I didn’t play my best, but I knew that he would be nervous in his first Davis Cup match and that he wouldn’t play his best. I think I played smart. I used my slice and I kept the ball low. I believe I will play better of Sunday.”Sela will have to be at his best if he’s to get the better of Melzer on Sunday, with the in-form Austrian easily beating Levy despite a mediocre performance.“It was a very close second set that could have gone either way, but whenever it was close I played really well,” said Melzer, who wrapped up the win in 2 hours and 11 minutes thanks to his 52 winners and the fact Levy converted just one of 11 break points. “I’m not afraid of Ram and Erlich, They’re a good doubles team and they’ve showen that in the past. But they haven’t played together all season. I think we can beat them. Ram and Erlich have to win the doubles, but we can afford to lose and that will put them under pressure.”Haider-Maurer displayed a powerful serve at the start of his Davis Cup debut, but Sela didn’t take long to figure it out and he recorded the first break of the afternoon in the fifth game.Israel’s number 1 saved two break points in the subsequent game, and after Haider-Maurer sent another return into the net Sela clinched the first set 6-4.Sela broke to love to start the second set, taking complete control of the encounter, and he quickly converted his commanding lead into a 6-1 victory.A sensational backhand winner gave Sela a break and a 3-1 advantage in the third set, and despite losing his serve for the first and only time in the match in the seventh game, he broke again in the subsequent game and quickly wrapped up the win.“It’s difficult to play your first Davis Cup match,” Haider- Maurer said. “I made too many mistakes and Dudi played really well. He made no mistakes and that was the difference.”Melzer broke Levy in the third game of their match to put himself in the driver’s seat, and he wrapped up the first set with a forehand winner.The Roland Garros semifinalist got the second set off to a perfect start, breaking in the opening game, but he lost his serve for the first time in the subsequent game.Levy then came back from 0- 40 to move into a 2-1 lead and came tantalizingly close to breaking for a second straight time in the fourth game.Levy squandered five break points and two more in the sixth game and quickly paid the price when Melzer broke him to take a 4-3 lead.The Austrian clinched the second set after Levy sent another forehand into the net and Melzer would go on to break in the second game of third set before cruising to a straightforward victory.“I think that Jurgen started very well and he was very confident,” Levy said. “He started missing a little in the second set and I had my chances, but I didn’t take them.“If I would have taken them I could have won the second set and I think anything could have then happened. I felt good on the court but I played a better player. I think that if I play well on Sunday I will have a good chance of winning.”Israel captain Eyal Ran was also feeling confident after the opening day.“I think Harel played really well in the first two sets and a few points here and there could have changed the encounter,” Ran said. “Jurgen deserved to win but so did Dudi. I think we will be okay tomorrow and I’m in an optimistic mood entering the second day.”
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