Tennis: Israelis in historic Grand Slam weekend

Pe'er reaches women's doubles final, Ram and Erlich in men's doubles final.

ram ehrlich 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
ram ehrlich 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich advanced to the final of the Australian Open's men's doubles tournament on Thursday and set up an historic weekend for Israeli tennis. On Friday, Shahar Pe'er and Belarusian partner Victoria Azarenka play Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko in the women's doubles final and on Saturday Ram and Erlich face Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement in the men's title match. Ram and Erlich, who will be playing in their first Grand Slam final, continued their flawless run at Melbourne on Thursday, defeating No. 6 seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-4, 6-4 in what was their fifth consecutive straight sets win. Break point conversion was crucial to the outcome of the match, with the Israeli duo converting two of their five opportunities and saving all six of the Frenchmen's break points. The Israeli's, who are seeded eighth in the tournament, broke in the first game of the match, setting the tempo for the remainder of the encounter. Another break in the fifth game of the second set gave Ram and Erlich a crucial lead which they would quickly convert into a famous victory. "This is a huge achievement and we're delighted," Ram said on Thursday. "We've waited for this for a long time and we always believed we could do it. We're playing superb tennis, but we still have the final to play on Saturday and we're not done yet. We believe we deserve to be here. We haven't lost a set all tournament and I hope we can continue this run in the final." Llodra and Clement, the No. 7 seeds and reigning Wimbledon champions, advanced to the final by defeating unseeded South Africans Jeff Coetzee and Wesley Moodie, 6-3, 7-6 (9) on Thursday. Ram and Erlich will be looking for their first ever win over the Frenchmen on Saturday after losing to Llodra and Clement in both of their previous meetings. The Israelis have already guaranteed themselves more than $195,000 by reaching the final and will double that amount should they win on Saturday. Also Thursday, Erlich and Chia-Jung Chuang lost 6-4, 6-4 to No. 3 seeds Zi Yan and Mark Knowles in the quarterfinals of the mixed doubles. Ram and Nathalie Dechy, who are seeded eighth in the mixed doubles, face Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi in the semifinals of the tournament on Friday. All Israeli eyes on Friday, however, will be directed at Pe'er's and Azarenka's doubles final. The Israeli/Belarusian team, which is seeded 12th in the tournament, advanced to the title match on Wednesday with a 0-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory over No. 7 seeds Zi Yan and Jie Zheng. Like Ram and Erlich, Pe'er and Azarenka are also already assured more than $195,000 by reaching the final and will double that amount should they now beat the Bondarenko sisters, who defeated No. 10 seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday.