Israel squad gets to work in Chile

Sela, Erlich reunited with Ram in Coquimbo after five-day journey.

davis cup israel squad 311 Asaf Kliger (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
davis cup israel squad 311 Asaf Kliger
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
COQUIMBO, Chile – An exhausted Israel Davis Cup squad held its first practice in this northern port town on Wednesday afternoon, just hours after completing a five-day journey ahead of the weekend’s crucial World Group tie.
On arrival, captain Eyal Ran was informed that the start of the tie has been delayed by a day due to the devastating earthquake which hit the country last weekend, and the games will therefore begin on Saturday.
Following a trip which took them from Acapulco through Miami, Rio and Buenos Aires, Ran said he would have preferred another day’s rest and for the tie to begin on Sunday.
Doubles specialist Andy Ram had been in Chile since the weekend, but Yoni Erlich, Dudi Sela, Noam Okun, Harel Levy and Ran all travelled to Coquimbo on a private jet from Buenos Aires paid for by the International Tennis Federation after spending the night in the Argentinian capital.
The squad had originally planned to fly from Santiago, but the airport in the Chilean capital was closed due to the earthquake. They had all played at the Abierto Mexicano tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, last week.
A tired but focused Levy told The Jerusalem Post he is surprised the tie is going ahead this weekend.
“If this had happened in Israel I am not sure the matches would go ahead. There are more important things than sports. I think they should delay the tie and not play it this weekend,” he said.
Despite the problematic preparations Levy insisted he and his teammates will give their all to beat a strong Chilean team which includes world No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez.
“We feel tired but at least we got here in the end. The preparation is not ideal but that is what we have got and we need to get ourselves used to the conditions quickly.
“We came to play and this is the most important thing,” Levy said.
It was an early start for the Israel squad, whose plane left Argentina at 8 a.m. Sela did his best to keep his and his teammates’ spirits up, playing a CD of Israeli music in the minibus on the way to the airport.
As the team waited for their flight to leave they played an impromptu game of soccer on the tarmac, but once on board the exhaustion sent most of the players into a deep sleep for the three-hour flight.
The relief was written all over the group’s faces when they finally touched down in Chile, and that was transformed to joy when they were reunited with Ram.
“I feel like I have been in prison for a week,” Ram told his teammates of the strange experiences in a country ravaged by disaster.
Levy did his best to put the distractions behind him and focus on the job in hand.
The Israelis were the surprise team of last year’s Davis Cup, reaching the semifinals after defeating Russia in Tel Aviv before losing to Spain.
But the form of Gonzalez combined with the fact that the matches will be played on clay has made the visitors the underdogs.
“It will be a very difficult tie, and it is very tough for us to play hard on clay,” Levy said.
“I know that we are underdogs but we are coming to win, not to lose. The mental preparation has been difficult but we are professionals and we will do our best to get ready for the games.”
A minute’s silence will be held at the start of all eight World Group ties this week out of respect to the more than 800 people who died in the earthquake which hit the cities of Santiago and Consepcion.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Chile,” ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said.
“I would like to thank both teams for their willingness to play under these difficult circumstances.
“I would also like to praise the hard work of the many people who have made staging this tie possible.”
Jeremy Last contributed to this report.