Sela leads Israel into crucial home tie vs Portugal

Israel's Dudi Sela 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel's Dudi Sela 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After heartbreakingly missing out on progress to the World Group last year, Israel enters this weekend’s tie against Portugal at Ramat Hasharon extremely confident of moving back to within one triumph of a place among the world’s top 16 nations.
Israel’s dreams of returning to the Davis Cup World Group after a one-year absence were shattered following a 3-2 home defeat to Canada last September.
However, a favorable draw against the clay specialists from Portugal has got the national team’s No. 1 Dudi Sela all but guaranteeing the blue-and-white will once more play for a place in the World Group come September.
“The outcome of the matches depends on us,” said Sela (62 in the world), who will face Frederico Gil (84) in the opening rubber on Friday.
“I know the Portuguese players and we should beat them.
I’m under a lot of pressure because this is a tie we should win, but I usually excel in the Davis Cup and I’m here to win and take us to the next stage.”
Sela has faced Gil once before in the ATP Tour, beating him in the first round of Wimbledon last year.
But the 27-year-old Portuguese right-hander has enjoyed a relatively successful 2012 so far, reaching the third round of the Australian Open and beating World No. 45 Thomaz Bellucci in the first round of the Miami Masters two weeks ago before losing his subsequent match.
Amir Weintraub (199) will play Rui Machado (101) in the second singles match on Friday.
“I’m happy at being drawn to play second because Dudi usually wins and takes a lot of pressure off me,” said Weintraub, who claimed the Futures tournament in Herzliya earlier this week.
Sela has won five of his last seven opening rubber matches, but he did lose to Canada’s Vasek Pospisil last September and hasn’t won both his singles encounters in Israel’s last six ties, a streak stretching back to March 2009.
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich are currently scheduled to play Joao Sousa and Gastao Elias in the doubles match on Saturday, although Portugal captain Pedro Cordeiro is likely to use at least one of his top two singles players in the showdown depending on Friday’s results.
“It is always exciting to play in front of our fans and I hope the stadium will be full,” said Ram, who will take part in his 24th tie this weekend, equaling Shlomo Glickstein’s Israeli record.
“Portugal is a strong team and will fight hard. But Yoni and I are the favorites and with all the conditions in our favor we should win.”