Tennis: Ram-Erlich win Indian Wells

Israeli pair defeat Nestor and Zimonjic to take tourney for 2nd straight year.

Ram Erlich champs 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Ram Erlich champs 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich proved on Friday that on current form they're the best doubles team in the world. The Israeli duo, which began the year with an historic Australian Open title, defeated Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic 6-4, 6-4 on Friday, claiming the prestigious Indian Wells title in California without dropping a single set. "We are extremely happy with this title here in Indian Wells. We have been playing very solid tennis since the summer of last year," Ram said after the one hour and 21 minute long encounter. "We won our first Grand Slam title this year and we have been playing with lots of confidence. The conditions in the United States suit our games, it's hot and we like to play on the hard courts." Ram and Erlich, who won their first and up until Friday only Masters Series title in Cincinnati last year, broke once in each set and saved all six of Nestor's and Zimonjic's break points. "It feels great to have won our second Masters Series title," said Erlich. "Obviously the first Masters Series is a little more emotional. But this is a title as important as our first one. For our first Masters Series title we defeated the Bryans which was a great confidence boost for our careers." The Israeli's, who advanced to their second straight Indian Wells final late Thursday with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Max Mirnyi and Jamie Murray, have won 14 of their last 15 matches on tour and improve to an outstanding 17-3 record in 2008. "Right now we are not thinking about winning titles," said Erlich. "We just focus on giving 100 percent, day by day, match by match and play with our hearts. "Obviously we will go out there and try to win every Masters Series and Grand Slam tournament. We will keep fighting and giving our hearts out there as we have been doing. We are leading the doubles race right now and we are happy about that." On Saturday, Tzipi Obziler (103 in the world) won the ITF tournament in Tenerife, defeating Carla Suarez-Navarro (133) 6-2, 6-3. Saturday's win propels Obziler back into the world's top 100 and keeps her hopes of qualifying for the Beijing Olympics alive. Meanwhile, Svetlana Kuznetsova ended Maria Sharapova's winning streak at 18 matches Friday with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 victory in the Pacific Life Open semifinals. Sharapova's perfect start to the season included titles in the Australian Open and at Doha. Kuznetsova, refusing to wilt after Sharapova won the second set, broke her service in the opening game of the third and went on to build a 5-1 lead. In the matchup of Russian stars, No. 3 Kuznetsova played more aggressively than Sharapova, taking more chances by driving groundstrokes close to the lines. Many went for winners. Kuznetsova's victory evened her career mark against Sharapova at 4-4. On the men's side, Mardy Fish, who had never made it beyond the fourth round at Indian Wells, added to his string of surprises in this year's tournament with a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4) victory over David Nalbandian. The win over No. 7 Nalbandian put the 98th-ranked Fish into Saturday's semifinals, where he will need to pull off the upset of his life to advance. His next opponent is No. 1 Roger Federer, who is 5-0 against him. Federer, going for his fourth Indian Wells title in five years, reached the semifinals when his quarterfinal opponent, Tommy Haas, had to forfeit because of a sinus infection. Defending champion and No. 2 Rafael Nadal will play No. 3 Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion, in the other semifinal. The 26-year-old Fish, making his sixth appearance in the desert tournament, lost to Federer in the fourth round in 2004, again in the second round the following year, and to Nadal in the third round two years ago. On his way to the semifinals this year, Fish beat No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 6-2 and No. 24 and two-time champion Lleyton Hewitt 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(4). After Nalbandian broke his serve to go up 6-5 in the third set, Fish came right back to break the Argentine's serve and set up the tiebreaker. Then at 4-4 in the tiebreaker, Fish pulled away with what had worked for him during the rest of the match - he hit three consecutive forehands for winners, then capped the match with an overhead. Fish wasn't sure why he has played so well this week, although he said he has a new trainer, has been working harder and feels stronger and fresher than in the past. Asked about his company in the semifinals, the top three players in the world, Fish said, "And me." "I guess the only thing you can go by is what your ranking is. I obviously don't feel like I'm the 98th-ranked player in the world, or playing like that. I've got a lot of self-confidence," said Fish, ranked as high as No. 17 four years ago. Because Federer got a walkover, he'll have an extra day of rest before the semis. "As if he needs any more ammo," Fish said. "Hopefully he'll be a little too rested, maybe." Nalbandian wasn't surprised by Fish's play. "On this surface, when the surface is fast, he's very dangerous all the time," Nalbandian said. "It's not strange for me to see him play like that." Both Haas and Federer said they were disappointed he had to pull out of their match. "I was playing my best tennis of the season, and was looking forward to playing Roger this afternoon," Haas said. Federer said, "I am very sorry for Tommy as I was looking forward to another great match with him. We have played quite a few times, and I know and respect Tommy a lot. I hope he gets better quickly."