World-class choke! Israel falls to Austria

Sela and Levy both flounder in reverse singles as blue-and-white fall out of top 16.

ISRAELI PLAYER Harel Levy 311 (photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
(photo credit: Ariel Schalit/AP)
After three years among the world’s best, Israel’s Davis Cup team was relegated from the World Group on Sunday, losing 3-2 to Austria after Dudi Sela and Harel Levy suffered back-to-back defeats at the Nokia Arena.
Israel entered Sunday’s singles matches with a 2-1 lead following Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich’s victory in Friday’s doubles encounter.
However, Sela (85) was thrashed 6-4, 6-0, 6-3 by world No. 13 Jurgen Melzer in the first clash of the day and Levy (223) capitulated to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6- 2 loss to Martin Fischer (134) in the decisive rubber, ending the national team’s three-year run in the World Group, just a year after it reached the semifinals of the competition in sensational fashion.
“It is very painful to lose like this,” Israel captain Eyal Ran said. “We had a 2-1 lead and we were close to the win, but in sports you need to know how to close it out. I’m proud of the players. I hope we learn from this and keep this squad together for another year so we can return to the World Group.”
Sunday’s loss sends Israel back to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I, and considering the age of Ram (30), Erlich (33) and Levy (32), combined with the lack of depth in Israeli tennis, it could be a while until the blue-andwhite reclaims a place among the world’s top 16 nations.
“There’s a feeling of emptiness, but that is only natural,” Ran said. “We have recovered from difficult situations in the past and we will not be giving up this time either. Good things will still happen to this team.”
Sela seemed to be focused at the start of the first match of the day, but he couldn’t convert break points in the fifth game and was made to pay.
A backhand into the net in the ninth game gave Melzer the first break of the afternoon, and after saving two set points in the subsequent game, another wayward backhand by Israel’s No. 1 gifted the Austrian the first set.
Melzer carried the momentum into the second set, breaking in the first game.
The Austrian left-hander was rock-solid and Sela looked completely lost, resulting in a 6-0 rout, with Melzer losing just nine points in the entire set.
Sela finally stopped the flood by holding serve in the first game of the third set, but he was broken in the third game, only to tie the score immediately at 2-2 with his first and only break of the match.
However, a comeback was never really in the cards, with the Israeli dropping his serve once more in the seventh game before Melzer clinched the victory in 2 hours and 15 minutes.
“I thought that if I play a good match I’ll have a good chance of winning,” said Melzer, who hit 48 winners.
“I made him play a lot of shots and I was serving well.
My game-plan worked to perfection.”
Levy got the second match of the day off to a flying start, breaking Fischer twice and serving well to open a quick 4-0 lead.
Israel’s No. 2 was coming to the net at every opportunity and another volley winner completed a 6-2 victory in the first set.
Despite falling into an early deficit in his Davis Cup debut, Fischer was unfazed, and after saving break points in the fifth game of the second set he would embark on a tie-winning run.
The Austrian found the lines with his serves and was finishing off points at the net time and again.
Fischer won 32 of 39 net points throughout the match and claimed 11 straight games to take a stranglehold of the encounter. A break in the eighth game of the second set, followed by a great volley at set point in the subsequent game, tied the match and Fischer would steamroll a helpless Levy in the third set.
Fischer won the first two games of the fourth set to cap an 11-game run, and although Levy tried to put up a fight in the remainder of the set, he never really looked like a player capable of mounting a comeback. After 2 hours and 14 minutes Fischer clinched the victory and Israel will have to get used to life in the Europe/Africa Zone Group I.
“Fischer was simply much better than me,” Levy admitted.
“I didn’t expect him to play this way. I hope we can return to the World Group next year. We need to lift our heads. We have a great team and we’ve still got two more years in us.”