Tennis: Ram, Erlich return to a hero's welcome

Maria Sharapova arrives in Israel ahead of this weekend's Fed Cup tie.

Ram Erlich champs 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ram Erlich champs 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich returned to a hero's welcome at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday morning, two days after making Israeli sporting history by claiming the Australian Open men's doubles title. The Israeli duo, who became the first Israeli team to win a Grand Slam event, were met by Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle and all the heads of Israel's Tennis Association on their arrival. "The excitement here is greater than after the match point in the final," Erlich said after landing in Israel. "I never dreamt that we would reach such a moment. This is an amazing period, and this result shows that we can go all the way in the Olympics as well." Ram could also hardly contain his excitement. "You play tennis all your life to reach these kinds of moments," he said. "We believed we could accomplish this for years, and now we have done it. I've already taken two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, but those triumphs come nowhere near to what we did in Melbourne." Ram and Erlich were on the same flight as Maria Sharapova, who flew in to Israel ahead of Russia's Fed Cup tie over the weekend. Sharapova avoided the Israeli media and was ushered quickly to her suite at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya. The rest of the Russian team also landed on Monday, including world No. 7 Anna Chakvetadze and Dinara Safina (16). "It will be a tough tie because we are playing in Israel. The crowd will be against us," said Chakvetadze, who defeated Shahar Pe'er in the quarterfinals of the US Open last year. "The outcome depends on the shape we'll be in. I don't know who's going to play yet because captain Tarpischev will choose the players who are in the best form. "Of course it's going to be difficult because Pe'er is tough on every surface, especially with the crowd supporting her." Russia's captain Shamil Tarpischev revealed on Monday that he had yet to decide who to play at the World Group tie in Ramat Hasharon. "I will select two players from Sharapova, Chakvetadze and Safina for the singles matches," Tarpischev said. "The players in the best form will play. Sharapova is in superb form after winning the Australian Open, and her addition to the squad is significant. This is her first Fed Cup tie, and I'm sure we'll make the most of her abilities." Despite the unruly reputation the Israeli crowd has built in recent years, Tarpischev is certain his players will handle anything directed at them. "I've heard of the Israeli crowd. They're world-renowned," he said. "Our players, however, are experienced and have been to such places as Argentina and the United States, where the crowds are just as loud, so I'm sure this experience will help them. "On paper we're the favorites, but the hosting team always has an advantage. Israel has an excellent player in Shahar Pe'er, who has made a name for herself with victories over top players, and she can also beat our players."