Israel optimistic of World Group return

Davis Cup: Blue-and-white hoping for positive start in Day 1 of playoff at injury-stricken Belgium.

ISRAEL’S AND BELGIUM’S squads tennnis 370 (photo credit: IBA/courtesy)
ISRAEL’S AND BELGIUM’S squads tennnis 370
(photo credit: IBA/courtesy)
Israel enters its David Cup tie in Belgium on Thursday confident of its chances of making a swift return to the World Group.
The national team advanced to the World Group last year with a 3-2 win over Japan in Tokyo, but found itself back in the playoffs after suffering its first Davis Cup whitewash since 2004 in February, losing 5-0 at France.
Israel was fortunate to avoid Spain, Switzerland and Germany in the playoff draw and its hopes were handed another significant boost this week, despite the fact the tie will be played on an indoor clay court in Antwerp.
The Belgium No. 1, David Goffin, ranked No. 72 in the world, broke his left wrist in training on Monday and will be out for the rest of the season.
As a result, Belgium’s squad doesn’t include a single top-100 player, with Ruben Bemelmans (155) and Steve Darcis (165) set to lead the hosts in the singles matches.
Dudi Sela (85) was drawn on Wednesday to face Darcis in Thursday’s opener, with Amir Weintraub (184) to play Bemelmans in the second match of the day.
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich are set to come up against Darcis and Olivier Rochus in Friday’s doubles match, with the tie to end with Sunday’s reverse singles.
The encounter is starting a day earlier than scheduled due to Yom Kippur, with no matches to be played on Saturday.
“I’m glad that Dudi is playing in the first match, but what is really important is that we are ready and make the most of every chance we get,” said Israel captain Eyal Ran.
“The most important thing is that we believe in ourselves and draw on the experience of recent years.”
Israel will be playing in the World Group playoffs for a fourth straight year, hoping to claim a second straight road win after last year’s victory over Japan following two playoff defeats at home against Austria and Canada.
Israel’s players will not be looking forward to the prospect of playing on the clay they so detest, with the blue-andwhite losing both the ties it has contested on the red surface since 2002.
However, those two defeats came against the powerful Chile and Spain and Ran has no concerns regarding the conditions in Belgium.
“The court isn’t that slow, but we will need to be patient,” said Ran. “I trust my players who always know how to excel in the Davis Cup.”
Sela’s opponent in Thursday’s opener, Darcis, made headlines across the world when he stunned Rafael Nadal in the first round of Wimbledon earlier this summer.
However, he was forced to pull out of the tournament before his second round match due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the victory over the Spaniard and has played just three tournaments since, losing to German Richard Becker (463) in the first round of a Challenger event in the Netherlands last week.
“I don’t know what to expect from Darcis,” admitted Sela on Wednesday.
“I always want to play in the second match on the first day, but that never seems to happen. You are under a lot of pressure when you play first, but I hope I will cope with it.”
Sela has won just four of his 14 Davis Cup singles matches over the past four years, losing both his contests against France and Japan.
Weintraub stepped up to lead Israel to the win in Japan with two singles victories, including in the decisive rubber.
Prior to the thrashing in France, Weintraub won at least one match in his first four ties for the national team and Israel will be counting on him to pick up a point in Belgium.
“I know the Belgian players well,” said Weintraub. “I spend a lot of time with them on tour and every match in this tie is going to be very difficult for us.”