Ran: We will play with a heavy heart

Israel’s Davis Cup captain tells ‘Post’ of emotions ahead of this weekend’s tie in Chile.

davis cup training 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
davis cup training 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
COQUIMBO, Chile – Despite the abnormal circumstances surrounding this weekend’s Davis Cup World Group tie between Israel and Chile, Israel captain Eyal Ran is doing his best to focus on sending his team into the quarterfinals for the second straight year.
The Israel team only arrived in the northern port town of Coquimbo on Wednesday afternoon, after its Saturday flight to Santiago was rerouted to Miami due to the devastation resulting from the massive earthquake which hit Chile.
The International Tennis Federation decided to delay the start of the matches by a day to Saturday, but rejected an official Israeli Tennis Association request for the first singles matches to be played on Sunday to allow for more training time.
Ran admitted it won’t be easy for either team to focus on the matches, but the ITA respects the ITF decision to allow the tennis to go ahead.
“It is going to be really weird to play here while people have been stuck under buildings not so far away, but the ITF and Chilean federation have said we are going to play, so we will play,” Ran told The Jerusalem Post  on Thursday as he took a short break in the Joy Coquimbo Hotel.
“It is an uncomfortable feeling, but maybe it is a chance for them to get back to normal and we respect this decision.”
Ran admitted he had been overwhelmed by the emotions of the situation.
“The moment this earthquake happened, our hearts were with the Chilean people,” he said. “Our country has had many catastrophes, so we can understand this. We will play with a heavy heart and we hope all the injured people will recover.”
On Thursday morning, Israel’s doubles team of Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich held their second training session, while Harel Levy had a private session with Ran.
The team is doing its utmost to get used to the clay court, a surface on which Israel has traditionally found it difficult to win on.
In its last Davis Cup tie, the semifinal defeat to Spain in Murcia, Israel played on clay and was easily defeated, although on that occasion the Spaniards were clearly the better team.
“The key to the tie will be to get into a clay mindset. We need to do the things we need to do, go to the net and be prepared to battle and fight,” Ran said.
“We have a great national team, it is really strong. When we come into these matches we play for the flag and the players are consistently improving. But we need to create a great connection like we had against Russia in the quarterfinals last year. Everyone is in good shape and I want a point every day.”
Israel’s singles players will once again be Dudi Sela and Harel Levy. The tie will begin with the singles on Saturday, followed by the doubles on Sunday and reverse singles on Monday.
One motivation for the Israeli team will be the knowledge that they overcame a similar Chile team in a World Group play-off two-and-a-half years ago.
On a famous September evening in Ramat Hasharon, Sela beat Fernando Gonzalez in five sets to clinch an unlikely victory.
“You can put it to one side,” Ran said when asked about the 2007 clash with Chile. “It was one of the peaks of our Davis Cup campaigns.
“They came to Israel as favorites last time, and now they will come with more motivation to beat us. But we don’t like to lose so we are coming to win. On the other hand, they have a lot of pressure. They are playing at home and the players are expected to win.”
Once again, Gonzalez is Chile’s top singles player and Israel will need another stunning performance from Sela if it is to come out on top.
Ran did his best to talk up his team’s chances.
“I know that Gonzalez is in the top 10, but when you play, you leave the rankings outside of the court,” he said. Gonzalez is in good shape now, but he also came to Israel in good condition and Dudi beat him. Anything can happen on a certain day.”
The tie will be played at a specially constructed 6,500-seater stadium.
After training with his players in the new arena, Ran said he has been impressed with the facilities.
“The conditions here are really good. The stadium is great and the clay is slow but good.
“The Chileans like this clay because the ball bounces high, but our players are finding the spots they like to use,” Ran explained. “It is going to be a really physical game and we will need a lot of patience.”
On Thursday, the Chilean players spoke of the difficult situation in their country and their hopes for the weekend.
“We will play to try to win to create some happiness for our country,for our people, in these difficult times,” said Gonzalez. “I amsaddened for what we are living as a country, but I am hopeful becausewe are a supportive, strong country.”
Fellow singles player Nicolas Massu added: “It is hard to put yourselfin place of the people who have lost relatives, or are having a roughtime, but I think Chile is a wonderful country.
“It does not seem easy to focus on the match, but at the same time wewill do our part to give our country a morale boost by winning thistie.”