Ram, Erlich win at Nottingham; Smashnova to face Sharapova
Tennis double defends their title at the Red Letter Days Open; odds aren't good for Smashnova at Wimbledon.
By FRANKIE SACHS
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich became the first pair to successfully defend the title at the Red Letter Days Open in Nottingham, England, with a straight-set win in Saturday's doubles final.
The top seeded duo blew past Russian finalists Dmitry Tursunov and Igor Kunitsyn 6-3, 6-2 for their second ATP Tour title this year and their seventh together.
The win puts them in fantastic shape with Wimbledon just around the corner. Ram and Erlich, who will be seeded fifth at the grass-court Grand Slam, learned Friday that they will face the Czech pair, Ivo Minar and Jiri Vanek, in the opening round at the All England Club. It will be the first meeting between the sides.
Ram and Erlich's best-ever Grand Slam result came at Wimbledon in 2003, when they reached the semifinals.
The highlight of the Wimbledon draw for the Israeli contingent features Anna Smashnova opening against No. 4 seed Maria Sharapova. The Russian teenager won their only previous meeting two years ago in Miami.
The prospects of an upset are not promising, as Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champ, reached the fourth round in her 2003 debut and the semifinals last year, while Smashnova has lost in the first round in each of the last five years and has only reached as far as the third round once in 11 tries at Wimbledon.
In the same quarter of the draw, No. 20 seed Shahar Pe'er will start against Juliana Fedak from Ukraine. Pe'er and Sharapova could potentially meet in the fourth round.
Pe'er and doubles partner Marion Bartoli of France drew the challenge of No. 10 seeds Eleni Daniilidou of Greece and Spain's Anabel Medina Garrigues in the first round of the ladies' doubles. The Israeli/French connection was eliminated in the semifinals of their final tune-up event, the Hastings Direct International Championships in Eastbourne, on Friday, losing to 6-3, 6-2 to Amelie Mauresmo of France and Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova.
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