Tennis: Israel favored over Luxemburg

Okun to open Davis Cup tie; Ram and Erlich play Saturday.

andy ram 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
andy ram 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli number one Noam Okun will aim to get his team off to a winning start on Friday afternoon when he faces Gilles Kremer in the first match of this weekend's Davis Cup tie against Luxemburg at Ramat Hasharon. Okun, who is ranked 169th in the world, will be followed on court by Dudi Sela (173), who plays Luxemburg's best, Gilles Muller (128), in Friday's second singles match. Sela will be expecting to take the court with his team holding a 1-0 lead, with Okun an overwhelming favorite against the amateur Kremer (1418). "This is the draw we wanted," Sela said of the order of the matches. "I hope we will be in the lead when I start my match. Muller is an excellent player, but if I display the tennis I've played in the last three months I can beat him." If everything goes according to Israel captain Eyal Ran's plan, then Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich may be in position to clinch the tie when they play Laurent Bram and Mike Scheidweiler on Saturday afternoon in the doubles match. "I can't see a scenario in which the team won't win," Ram said ahead of the tie. "Okun and Sela are in great form. Noam always manages to win in the Davis Cup and I can't wait for Dudi to put on a show for the local crowd. "We're starting to get butterflies. It's always very special to play for Israel at home. Our training has been brilliant, so let's hope our form on the court will be as well." The two remaining singles matches will be played on Sunday afternoon when Okun faces Muller in a meeting of the team's top players, and Sela plays Kremer. "We are obviously not favorites, but we have nothing to fear," Muller said. "In the Davis Cup, anything can happen and despite Israel's home-court advantage, we're not giving up. "I'm used to the team relying on me; it has been like that in the last two or three years. Kremer may not be a pro anymore, but he is experienced and he will give any player he plays a tough time. "I'm not concerned about playing my match with the team 1-0 down, I've done it before. I believe the tie is open and that we can come away with the victory." Muller was ranked as high as 59th in the ATP rankings in 2005 and has defeated the likes of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal in his career. However, the Luxemburgian has been in a steady decline over the last year and both of Israel's players will be confident of defeating him this weekend. The winner of this weekend's tie will face Italy in April in the second round of Europe/Africa Zone Group I. The winner of April's tie will play in the World Group playoff for a place among the world's top 16 teams. Most top players in action Seven of the world's top 10 players will be in action for the first round of the Davis Cup. The notable exception is No. 1 Roger Federer, who is sitting out Switzerland's World Group match against Spain. Second-ranked Rafael Nadal, however, will open for Spain against Marco Chiudinelli on carpet in Geneva. The other top-10 players competing are Andy Roddick and James Blake of the United States, Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic of Croatia and Tommy Haas of Germany. Federer, who won the Australian Open last month for his 10th Grand Slam title, is skipping the matches to concentrate on keeping his No. 1 ranking. Without Federer, Switzerland will have Stanislas Wawrinka playing David Ferrer on Friday in the second singles match of the best-of-five series. Yves Allegro and Wawrinka will take on Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco in Saturday's doubles. The reverse singles are Sunday, but captains can still make changes to their lineups. The other first round matches are: Chile vs Russia; France vs Romania; Germany vs Croatia; Belgium vs Australia; Czech Republic vs United States; Belarus vs Sweden; and Austria vs Argentina. AP contributed to this report.