Israel stays alive in Davis Cup tie as Ram, Erlich win

Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich did their best to atone for last year's surprising defeat in the home tie against Great Britain.

ram erlich 88 (photo credit: )
ram erlich 88
(photo credit: )
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich did their best to atone for last year's surprising defeat in the home tie against Great Britain. But in the grand scheme of things, it just may not be enough. Ram and Erlich defeated Janko Tipsarevic and Ilia Bozoljac 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the doubles rubber on Saturday at Canada Stadium in Ramat Hasharon to keep Israel alive in the best-of-five Europe/Africa zone, Group I tie against Serbia-Montenegro. But trailing 2-1, the blue-and-white must play flawless tennis on Sunday to advance to the next round. Each squad's top racquet will face off on the final day of play, with Serbian teenager Novak Djokovic the clear favorite against Dudi Sela. Djokovic, ranked 70th in the world, made quick work of Noam Okun (196) on Friday in the tie's second rubber 7-6(2), 7-6(6), 6-2, even though Okun did drag the first two sets into tiebreakers. Israel's best chance to earn a point on the opening day was lost when Sela (170), making his home debut in the competition, got the jitters and fell apart against Tipsarevic (127), losing 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-0, 6-4. Sela broke Tipsarevic early to grab a 3-1 lead and held on until he was serving for set. But twice he lost serve with the set on the line and eventually Tipsarevic took the momentum and went on to finish the set in a tiebreaker. Sela took control in the second set, but things would take a turn for the worse just as he was settling in. With the Israeli up 4-2 and 40-0, he started suffering from cramps. After a lengthy injury timeout, Sela came back and held on for the game and then broke Tipsarevic for the third time in that set to even the score. However, he would pay the price in the next set, as the Serbian swept all six games in just 23 minutes. Sela showed signs of life in the fourth, but that was as much because of Tipsarevic's inability to withstand the pressure from the vocal Israeli crowd as anything else. Sela would fend off six match points - many thanks to Tipsarevic's unforced errors - before conceding the match. The Okun-Djokovic encounter featured two big servers and many baseline blasts. Both held serve throughout the first set until the tiebreaker. Djokovic recorded the match's first break to take a 5-4 lead in the second, but Okun broke back and they went to a second tiebreaker. Okun went ahead and at 5-6 had set point, only for Djokovic to remain calm and win three points in a row to take a commanding lead. The young Serb then won the next five games to send the 3,000-plus fans home disappointed. On Saturday, Ram and Erlich gave Israel its first point of the tie, but now the pressure falls to Sela, who must get the best of Djokovic for the fifth match to have any significance. Sela and Djokovic know each other from the junior ranks, which may give the Israeli some comfort level on the court. If Sela can score the upset, Okun would be the favorite in the deciding rubber. The 27-year-old has twice before won the deciding match in a crucial home tie, most recently against Finland in 2005. On the other hand, Tipsarevic didn't show much mental ability in his first two matches. In a deciding encounter against a more experienced player and what would likely be a vocal crowd, there is every reason to believe Israel could win. But first Sela must come through. Croatia, Argentina, France, Russia and Belarus advance Defending champion Croatia, Argentina, France, Russia and Belarus advanced to the Davis Cup quarterfinals by winning doubles rubbers to open up unbeatable 3-0 leads. Croatia defeated Austria in their first-round tie, Russia beat the Netherlands, Belarus upset 2004 champion Spain, Argentina swept Sweden and France beat Germany.