Israel crushes Russia in tennis history

Netanyahu lauds national team, which makes it through to Davis Cup semifinals for first time ever.

Ram-Ehrlich vs Russia 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ram-Ehrlich vs Russia 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Sensational. Incredible. Stunning. Amazing. It is difficult to find the words to describe the magnitude of Israel's historic 3-0 victory over Russia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv on Friday and Saturday. Until Saturday Israel had never made it past the quarterfinals of the competition, and reached the last eight only once, 22 years ago when it lost to India in New Delhi. But this all changed over two days of outstanding tennis. After Harel Levy and Dudi Sela put the home side 2-0 up with superb performances in the opening singles matches on Friday, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich finished the job off on Saturday, winning a nail biting five-setter against Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned Israel Tennis Association CEO Moshe Haviv on Saturday night to congratulate him on the Davis Cup team's historic achievement. "We're once again on the map," Netanyahu told Haviv. "You have filled the nation with pride." Ram and Erlich's 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4 win kept the 11,000 raucous fans on the edge of their seats for three hours and 51 minutes. The Israelis had taken control in the first two sets and after just over an hour Ram was serving for the match in the third at 5-4. But with the crowd on their feet the Russians managed somehow to pull themselves back into the match and claimed both the third and fourth sets to tie the encounter. However, the experienced Israeli duo were not be outdone pulling themselves together, breaking in the eighth game and finally clinching the win to record one of the greatest achievements in Israeli sports. Despite winning the Australian Open doubles competition together in 2008, both Ram and Erlich said they ranked their victory as the greatest moment in their careers. "On Friday I told the guys that for me this is the biggest event I have been in my life. Grand Slam winning is unbelievable but being here in front of 10,000 people, my crowd...," Erlich told reporters as he paused for thought. "Since you are a kid you dream of these moments. This is something I will cherish for all of my life," added the player who only recently came back from injury after 10 months out of the game. "This is the best moment of my career. It is an experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life," Ram said. One of the keys to the tie was Levy's outstanding 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Igor Andreev in the opening rubber on Friday. Few predicted Levy would have any chance against an opponent ranked 186 places above him at 24 in the world. However, the 30-year-old produced an exceptional display of shot making to stun the Russian and even shock himself. "I surprised myself," he admitted. "I am very happy. I felt very relaxed on court. He was a big favorite but I believed - we're here in Israel, it's the Davis Cup. He had a lot of pressure on him and I had less." The pressure was then on Sela who initially appeared overwhelmed by the situation, losing the first set to Mikhail Youzhny 6-3. But the crowd was on Sela's side, and worked its magic as he suddenly stormed to victory, winning the next three sets 6-1, 6-0, 7-5 to put Israel in the driving seat ahead of Saturday's doubles. However, the job wasn't completed until just after 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night when Ram and Erlich leaped into the air in celebration. At Saturday's post match press conference Israel captain Eyal Ran said his heart was still beating rapidly even half an hour after the match finished. "I was confident we could win. It is a dream come true to win 3-0 in front of this crowd. I think we deserve it, the crowd deserve it, the country deserved it. My heart is pumping, it is unbelievable," Ran gasped. Safin had courted controversy in the build up to the tie by saying Israel had been "lucky" to beat Sweden in the previous round as the Swedes had their best players missing. But on Saturday the former world number one admitted the best team had won at the Nokia Arena. "You [Israel] played well. You had a great doubles team. This is how this sport goes," he philosophized. "We have had some bad losses in the past. That's life, that's sport, that's how it is." On Sunday the dead rubber singles will be played, with Sela due to face Andreev and Levy against Youzhny, although the captains may change the lineups considering the matches have no significance in terms of the result of the tie. Next up for Israel is the winner of the quarterfinal tie between Spain and Germany. Defending champion Spain leads Germany 2-1 going into Sunday's reverse singles and is a firm favorite to wrap-up the victory on the clay in Marbella and host Israel in the semis in September. If Germany turns the tie on its head and wins both singles matches on Sunday, Israel will host the semifinals. Spain, which is playing without Rafael Nadal for the second time in three contests due to knee tendinitis, can wrap up its 16th straight home win on Sunday when Tommy Robredo is scheduled to face Andreas Beck in reverse singles. Verdasco, who beat Beck in Friday's opening singles, is set to play Philipp Kohlschreiber in the final singles match on the outdoor clay at the Puerto Banus bullring. staff contributed to this report