Tennis: Sweden knocks Israel out of Davis Cup

Sweden records a 3-2 victory over Israel to advance to the quarterfinals, despite Harel Levy and Dudi Sela's efforts.

Dudi Sela 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Dudi Sela 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
The expression on Harel Levy's face at the end of the day summed it all up. Complete and utter dejection. Despite a valiant effort, Levy and Dudi Sela both came up short in their respective matches against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson on Sunday and Sweden recorded a 3-2 victory over Israel to advance to the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup. Israel's players had their chances at Ramat Hasharon, but the Swedes' experience proved crucial time and again in the important points in what was the national team's first World Group tie in 14 years. "We're disappointed, but I'm happy that we've reached a situation in which we're in the World Group and are frustrated with a loss to Sweden," Israel captain Eyal Ran said on Sunday. "Levy gave a heroic display and he almost pushed Bjorkman to a fifth set. Sela was also very close. We had a lot of chances, which we worked very hard to reach, but we couldn't convert them. The Swedes' didn't take their foot of the gas during the entire tie." Sunday's loss means Israel will play in the World Group playoff over the weekend of September 19-21 and will need to win if it's to be part of the elite 16 teams in the Davis Cup once again in 2009. "The tie against Sweden gives us a lot of motivation for the future," Ran said. "We'll have a chance to return to the World Group with a win in September and I believe that with the experience we've gained against Sweden we will be able to succeed when we next play in the last 16." In Sunday's first match Sela converted just four of 19 break points and Johansson claimed his second straight sets win of the tie, 7-6 (6), 6-1, 7-5. "The final score line doesn't really do me justice," Sela said. "He wasn't that much better than me. I wasn't at my best today and I'm disappointed. I expected to win this match, but unfortunately I couldn't. If I played a bit better we would have won this tie." Sela recorded the first break of the match in the eighth game of the first set, but failed to serve out the set, with Johansson breaking back to love. The marathon set, which lasted for an hour-and-a-half, was eventually decided on a tiebreak, which Johansson won with an ace. The Swede surged ahead in the second set and wrapped it up with a loss of just one game. Johansson opened a 3-0 lead in the third set and the encounter seemed to be heading to a speedy ending. Sela, however, reeled off four straight games and had three break points in the eighth game of the set. The Israeli couldn't, however, make the most of his opportunities and the 32-year-old Johansson held serve to tie the score (4-4). Both players held serve in the next three games, but in the 11th game of the set Johansson broke and in the subsequent game held serve to tie the overall score. Following Sela's defeat all the pressure was on Levy and, despite a superb start, he lost the decisive match to Bjorkman 0-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6). "I'm very disappointed. I felt I could win. It's a pity he took the important points," Levy said, after losing on Sunday. "All in all we faced a better team. We will have a tough tie in the next stage as well and hopefully we can survive in the World Group and play in front of this amazing crowd once again." Levy blitzed the 35-year-old Bjorkman in the first set and won six straight games to claim the set in a mere 23 minutes. The Israeli had a superb chance to consolidate his lead in the fourth game of the second set, but he squandered two break points and Bjorkman held. The Swede broke for the first time in the match in the seventh game of the set and, despite trailing 15-40 in the 10th game, held serve to win the set. Bjorkman broke once more in the first game of the third set and took a 2-1 lead in the match after a Levy double-fault on set point in the ninth game. Levy got off to an encouraging start in the fourth set, breaking in the first game and opening a 2-0 lead with a circus shot. The Israeli served for the set in the 10th game, but was broken when it mattered most and the set had to be determined on a tiebreak. Levy won the first two points of the breaker, but Bjorkman soon took control of the proceedings and his forehand winner on his second match point gave Sweden the win. "I loved playing in Israel, I felt like I was 20 years old again," Bjorkman said. "I looked 45 years old in the first set, but I eventually found my rhythm and started playing better." Sweden's captain Mats Wilander said: "This was Davis Cup tennis at its best. The tie was tougher than we had predicted and fortunately we had a lot of luck and won. Israel has a strong team and a bright future."