Tennis: Israel's loss to Spain nothing to be ashamed about

Tennis Israels loss to

Celebrating a defeat is simply not done in sports. UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell Sanders said it best when he claimed that "winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." With that in mind, Israel's Davis Cup defeat to Spain in the semifinals of the prestigious competition over the weekend should take nothing away from the national team's remarkable achievement. It took the nation some 22 years to reach the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup for the second time ever earlier this year after losing to India in 1987. In all likelihood it will be at least another generation until a future Israel side is among the last four standing in the premier international tennis event. It was only an amazing combination of circumstances that made it possible for the team to even face Spain in the semis. Just two-and-a-half years ago, an almost identical squad was still playing the likes of Luxembourg in the first round of the Europe/Africa Zone Group I. However, the rise of Dudi Sela, combined with some fortuitous draws which gave the team home-court advantage against beatable opponents, gifted Eyal Ran's men what may well prove to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. The tie against Luxembourg was followed by four more consecutive home encounters against Italy, Chile, Sweden and Peru, with the team's only loss coming against the Swedes in February of 2008, in what was then its first World Group match in 14 years. Israel avenged that defeat in Malmo earlier this year, claiming a dramatic 3-2 victory to advance to the quarterfinals, while thousands of locals screamed anti-Israeli chants outside an empty arena. The victory in Sweden set up another home tie, this time against a clearly superior Russia team. Nevertheless, Israel came through the tough test with flying colors, wrapping up the victory with a day to spare. The one-sided defeat in Spain may take some of the shine off Israel's accomplishment for a few fans, but it should not. The team may well reach a second straight semi next year, but it is far more probable it will be fighting for its life among the top 16 nations in the World Group. With Harel Levy and Yoni Erlich in the twilight of their careers, and no future stars on the horizon to replace them or even the younger Sela and Andy Ram, it is difficult to see how the highs of 2009 will be repeated not just next year, but any time soon. However, there will be plenty of time to ponder the inevitable future troubles of Israeli tennis in the coming years. Now is the time to celebrate the extraordinary success of captain Ran and his team of Sela, Levy, Ram and Erlich. After all, we may never again see an Israeli team play in the semifinals of the Davis Cup.