Team makes quarterfinals for first time since 1987 after Harel Levy wins nail-biter vs. Vinciguerra.
By ALLON SINAI
For the first time since 1987, and for just the second time ever, Israel's ational team dvanced to the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup on Sunday.
Harel Levy defeated Andreas Vinciguerra 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6 in a hrilling fifth and decisive match to give Israel a historic 3-2 victory over Sweden in Malmo.
Israel entered Sunday trailing 2-1 in the World Group first round tie, but Dudi Sela tied the encounter with a 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over Thomas Johansson and Levy completed the sweetest of victories in a tie overshadowed by political protests.
Only about 300 special invitees were allowed to watch the match because city officials said they couldn't guarantee security at the venue. Critics, including the Israeli team, said Malmo was caving in to threats of violence from anti-Israel groups, and the Swedes ended up paying the ultimate price for the unsporting decision.
Levy suggested the decision to close the match to the public backfired on the Swedes because it deprived them of the raucous backing that home teams normally enjoy.
"Maybe they lost this tie from the lack of support from the spectators," he said. "After all, it affected them more than it affected us. Hopefully it won't happen again."
Levy was hoisted in the air by the jubilant Israeli team after the emotional win, with Sela in tears, and a few dozen special guests celebrating in the stands.
"We made history. This is the greatest moment of my career," Levy added. "I was very tense throughout the match and kept telling myself to try and enjoy it. This is very emotional, it's amazing. It will take us time to grasp this achievement."
Next up for Israel is a home tie over the weekend of July 10-12 against two-time winner Russia, which defeated Romania 4-1 in the first round.
The Russians will be massive favorites to advance to the semifinals, having eight players in the top-100, including world No. 5 Nikolay Davydenko, Igor Andreev (23) and Marat Safin (25).
Levy was the sharper player at the start of the final match of the tie, breaking in the third game and eventually clinching the first set with a drop shot winner in the 10th game.
The Israeli remained in control in the second set, but squandered break points time and again and paid the price in the 10th game when Vinciguerra broke at the crucial moment to tie the match.
An early break in the third set gave Levy a 2-1 advantage and once more he knew how to defend his lead and eventually took the set 6-4.
A tight fourth set was effectively decided when the Swede hit a forehand winner to break in the eighth game and the match and tie went down to a decisive fifth set.
Both players reached break points, but neither could convert, with Vinciguerra saving a match point in the 12th game.
Levy, however, had no intention of losing a crucial fifth match for a second straight year, and in the 14th game, on his third match point, he finally completed the win after the Swede sent a forehand into the stands.
In Sunday's first match, both Sela and Johansson showed their intent by opening their first service games with aces.
The Swede claimed the first break of the match in the fourth game and, after saving a Sela break point in the following game, went on to take the set 6-3.
Sela raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set and after just 24 minutes tied the match, winning the set 6-1.
A tight third set went with serve until the 10th game when Johansson broke on his third set point and a frustrated Sela smashed his racket to the ground.
The burst of anger appeared to have energized the Israeli, who once more rebounded well from losing a set, opening a quick double-break 4-1 lead and tying the match once more with a love hold.
A second five-setter in three days proved too much for Johansson, who tired as the match progressed and in the fifth set ran completely out of steam.
Sela reeled off the first four games of the decisive set, and on his fifth match point, he clinched the match with an un-returnable serve.
"It is a very nice revenge for me," said Sela, who lost to Johansson at Ramat Hasharon last year. "He beat me very easily in Israel last year and then we lost the tie. I knew I had to play long points and keep him on the court as long as possible. I think it paid off."
Johansson said the effort of playing two five-setters in three days took its toll.
"I had no energy left," Johansson said. "When your body stops there is not much you can do. It's just agony to stay out there. You know that if he doesn't break his leg there is no chance. I have never been this soar in my body in my whole life."
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