Israel takes lead over Great Britain

Ram and Erlich storm back to beat Murray and Delgado.

ram tennis 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
ram tennis 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
It took all day and nearly all they had in them, but Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich found a way to beat Andy Murray and Jamie Delgado in a thrilling five-set doubles marathon to give Israel a 2-1 lead over Great Britain in the best-of-five Europe/Africa Zone Group I Davis Cup relegation tie on Saturday at the International Lawn Tennis Center in Eastbourne, England. The Israeli doubles stars, who were stunned by Murray and David Sherwood last year in a Davis Cup tie in Ramat Hasharon, came back to win the last five games in the final set for a 3-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory that took nearly three-and-a-half hours. On Sunday, Noam Okun is scheduled to face Murray in the fourth rubber and Ram to play Alex Bogdanovic in the fifth. But anything can change by Sunday morning. Both Ram and Murray have already played 10 sets in two days, after Murray came from two sets down to beat Ram 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 in Friday's second rubber. Furthermore, the Scot was clearly in pain towards the end of the doubles encounter, rubbing the left side of his neck at nearly every stoppage in play. "I'll wake up tomorrow and see how I feel and if necessary have some treatment," Murray told BBC. "The neck started getting worse towards the end of the match, and I wasn't feeling too good. But it is not over yet." Britain's non-playing captain Jeremy Bates will no doubt use Murray if fit, but may have some thinking to do about whether Bogdanovic is his man for a potential fifth and deciding rubber. The Serbian-born lefty was a shadow of himself as he lost to Okun 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 in the opening match. He told BBC following that match, "I want to play the second match and I'm ready for it." Bogdanovic has never won a "live" rubber. His only win came in the fifth match in Australia against Todd Woodbridge in February 2003, with Britain trailing 4-0 at the time. If Bates decides against Bogdanovic, he can choose from Delgado or Alan Mackin, though he has never played in the Davis Cup at home and is 0-3 in his Great Britain career. The hope on the Israeli side is that Okun, who called his play "almost flawless" on Friday and has a history of raising the level of his game in Davis Cup play, will use his fresh legs to beat the tired Murray and clinch victory in the fourth rubber. Murray, ranked 35th in the world, and Okun (270), have never faced each other before. Ram, who expressed confidence in his post-match television interview that Okun "is gonna finish it first," said that if not, he is "ready to play another five sets and I'll be happy to win." Ram (662) and Bogdanovic (148) would also be playing for the first time. In the event that Israel were to win the fourth rubber, captain Eyal Ran would likely give No. 4 Dekel Valtzer (441) the chance to make his Davis Cup debut in the fifth. Saturday's start was delayed by rain for over two-and-a-half hours and when it finally started, the Brits were ready. They broke Ram's serve for an early lead and held on to take the opening set. Ram and Erlich bounced right back, breaking Delgado in the first game of the second set and making it stand up to even the match. The turning point in the third set came in the 11th game, as the hosts foiled Ram's serves to take a 6-5 lead and then Murray served out the set. The topsy-turvy match then went Israel's way, as Delgado dropped serve in the second game. With Israel up 5-3 and Erlich serving for set, the Brits failed to take advantage of four break points to get back in the match before Israel knotted the match at 2-2. Things went the hosts' way in the fifth, as Ram's serve was again broken in the fourth game and then the Israelis missed a break point in fifth as Delgado put his team up 4-1. But with their backs to the wall, Erlich held a tension-filled service game and Ram led the charge to break Murray. Ram then tied it at 4-4 on a love service game. Ram and Erlich kept hold of the momentum, breaking Delgado and sending Erlich to serve for match. Despite the massive amounts of energy used by the players, they never quit on any ball and the most entertaining rally of the match took place in the last game. The ball flew over the net 19 times before Ram placed a drop shot where no one could get it and set up Israel's first match point. Britain ultimately forced deuce, but two points later the match was decided. Ram called the win "very special, especially after being down 4-1 in the fifth set." He added, "We played great tennis with lots of heart." Erlich said, "We give [Delgado and Murray] credit, they made us play that well to win."