Israeli Sporting Moments of the Decade: No.4- Andy-Yoni send Israel into delirium, Davis Cup semis

Israeli Sporting Moments

Andy Ram Yoni Erlich 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Andy Ram Yoni Erlich 248.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
While the singles game has created numerous international superstars, such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the top doubles teams in the world are generally left to flounder in the briefs columns of most sports sections. This all changes on Davis Cup weekends. Suddenly the doubles duos are an essential part of the team effort, none more so than Israel's longtime partners Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich, who have become heroes due to their exploits for the national team. Both Ram and Erlich have acknowledged that July 11, 2009 was the greatest day of their careers. It was at just after 7:30 p.m. on that balmy summer Saturday that the veteran pairing kept their nerves in front 11,000 raucous fans to beat Russia's Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn in five sets and send Israel into the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time. The pressure had been on Ram and Erlich after Dudi Sela and Harel Levy had surprisingly won their singles matches the day before. Winning the doubles would secure the most historic of victories as Israel had been past the quarterfinals, a stage it had only reached once before when it lost to India in New Delihi 22 years previously. The atmosphere in Tel Aviv's vast Nokia Arena was tense. The Israelis tried to joke around during the warm-up knock around, but everyone knew what was at stake. Few of the tennis fans who filled the stadium seemed able to believe that Israel had somehow fought its way to be on the cusp of greatness. During the months leading up to the tie the local media had focused on the Israel Tennis Association's controversial decision to play the matches in the indoor arena rather than its regular home of Ramat Hasharon. It felt like it was a given that Israel had no real chance of defeating the great Russians, who won the entire competition in 2006. But, amazingly, there we were, knowing it was all in the hands of Ram and Erlich. There was a degree of confidence in the crowd - Ram and Erlich were far more experienced at playing together at the top level than their opponents. But it was Erlich's first significant match alongside his great friend for nearly a year, having been forced to take a lengthy break due to an elbow injury. The confidence ran through the Israelis, who played on the Russians' inexperience to take the first two sets 6-3, 6-4. The Eastern Europeans' heads dropped. Safin, who had already announced that he planned to retire later in the year, seemed to know this was the last Davis Cup tie he would play in and looked like he had already given up. Soon Ram was serving for the match with the Israelis leading 5-4 in the third set. But it was far from over. Safin and Kunitsyn battled back to save the third set and win the fourth to send the match into a deciding set. It was there that the famous Israeli Davis Cup crowd came into their own. Encouraged by Ram's pumping fists they roared on the home team to win the final set 6-4 and soar into the semifinals. The greatness of Israel's quarterfinal victory came from the way it was claimed as well as the significance of the result. The Davis Cup is world team tennis's top competition and it was nothing short of wonderful to witness the team representing tiny Israel fight its way into the last four. However, Ram, Erlich, Sela and Levy didn't only win, they won in a gallant, honorable manner, showing passion, pride and sporting excellence. The same four players ended up being no match for eventual winners Spain in September's semifinal where the hosts steamrollered the hapless Israelis on clay in Murcia. Yet the semifinal defeat did not detract from the lasting impact of July's quarterfinal triumph - a victory which represented everything that is good about Israeli sport.