Israel can’t afford to serve up another dud vs Poland

Sinai Says: On the face of it, Israel’s out-ofform players face an uphill battle against Poland.

Eyal Ran 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Eyal Ran 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It is hard to imagine Israel’s Davis Cup team entering this weekend’s Europe/Africa Zone Group I tie against Poland in a worse situation than the current sad state of affairs.
Here we are, a full two months into 2011, and Israel’s No. 1 Dudi Sela, ranked 86th in the world, has only got two wins to his name, failing to make it past the second round of any of the six tournaments he has entered.
Much was expected from Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich after the two agreed to return to play together on a weekly basis this year, but the iconic Israeli duo has a miserable 2- 6 record in 2011, being knocked out in the first round in four of six tournaments so far.
As discouraging as Sela’s and Ram and Erlich’s early results have been, the trio’s performance at Ramat Hasharon over the three days – starting Friday – is not even the biggest question-mark entering what is a crucial tie for the national team.
With Harel Levy and Noam Okun both hanging up their rackets in recent months, Amir Weintraub (257) is Israel’s new No. 2 in singles, and with zero Davis Cup experience to his name, no one quite knows what to expect from him against the Poles.
After reaching the semifinals of the Davis Cup in stunning fashion in 2009, Israel has quickly regressed to its humble and true place in world tennis and is now in danger of losing touch with the top 16 nations in the World Group.
It took the blue-and-white 14 years to return to the World Group after the last time it dropped to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I in 1994.
Four straight wins, the last against Chile at Ramat Hasharon in 2007, restored its place among the leading nations, a position it held for three years until last September’s 3- 2 defeat to Austria at Nokia Arena.
Israel enters the contest against Poland on a three-tie losing streak and another defeat will leave it in Group I for at least one more year.
With Ram (30) and Erlich (33) both nearing the end of their careers and no new blue-chip talent on the horizon, time becomes an especially precious commodity for this team.
If Israel doesn’t return to the World Group soon, it may well once more take over a decade to get back to the big time.
Despite the recent struggles of his players, Israel captain Eyal Ran is optimistic his team can overcome a mediocre Poland squad, which has an excellent doubles duo in Marcin Matkowski (9) and Mariusz Fyrstenberg (10), but is expected to use lowly ranked Jerzy Janowicz (150) and Marcin Gawron (362) in the singles matches.
“It is going to be a very tight tie,” said Ran, whose team will advance to September’s World Group playoffs with a victory over Poland.
“These teams have two of the best doubles duos in the world and not as good singles players. We are undergoing a changing of the guard and I hope that what makes the difference in this tie will our home-court advantage.”
Ram acknowledged that his recent results with Erlich have been bitterly disappointing, but with an eight-match home winning-streak in Davis Cup doubles action, he believes that this weekend’s tie presents the pair with an opportunity they have been waiting for.
“We may not be playing too well at the moment, but the Davis Cup is a different story,” Ram said. “We haven’t won many matches lately, but we will break out of this slump through the Davis Cup.”
Erlich echoed his partner’s sentiment.
“Unfortunately, our results this year haven’t been great,” he said. “We haven’t lived up to our expectations, but we know what we are worth and we will continue to work hard until we get to where we deserve.”
Sela has won eight of his last nine meaningful Davis Cup matches at Ramat Hasharon and he is hoping that the return to the home of Israeli tennis after two ties at Nokia will give him the boost he needs.
“I always wanted to play at Ramat Hasharon and I’m optimistic that the return to Canada Stadium will help us get back to winning ways,” Sela said.
“I have yet to win two straight matches in 2011 and I have been slightly unlucky in recent weeks. I hope that I can gain some confidence for the rest of the season through the Davis Cup.”
On the face of it, Israel’s out-ofform players face an uphill battle against Poland.
However, with the Poles struggling with injuries and the matches to be played at Ramat Hasharon once more, the Israel camp seems to be brimming with confidence.
Hopefully they can back up their broad smiles.
Because if they don’t, frowns may abound for a while.
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