A superb performance by world no. 184 Amir Weintraub ensured that all is still to play for in Israel’s Davis Cup playoff tie against Belgium.
Weintraub was excellent as he defeated Belgian Ruben Bemelmans in a five-set thriller lasting just over four hours.
The 26 year old’s 6-3, 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 win was of particular importance after his compatriot Dudi Sela capitulated in the day’s earlier game, losing in straight sets (1-6 2-6 2-6) to Steve Darcis.
Despite Sela’s much higher ranking (85), it was Weintraub who was Israel’s hero on the opening day of this tie, continuing his love affair with the Davis Cup. He has frequently been his team’s go-to guy in the competition, having taken a set off world number eight Jo-Wilfried Tsonga recently and winning his two matches in a tie against Japan this time last year.
Playing some fantastic groundstrokes, with his backhand particularly impressive, Weintraub started quickly, taking the first set 6-3 with two breaks of Bemelmans’ serve. However unforced errors cost the Israeli dearly in the second, and with Bemelmans finding his rhythm, with his serve especially strong, he leveled the match at a set a piece.
The next two sets were epics with both lasting in excess of an hour, with little separating the two players. The Belgian took the third in a tie break (7-2), with Weintraub’s play deserting him at the most important moment. However, he recovered in the best possible fashion, rediscovering his powerful groundstrokes in another extremely close set, to take the rubber to a decider.
With momentum on his side, Weintraub took the game to Bemelmans, forcing several opportunities for breaks, only to see the Belgian deny him with his serving. However he did eventually find the break, at the best possible moment, gaining the advantage to go 5-4 up. Weintraub managed to keep his nerve and serve to close out a thrilling win.
Clearly exhausted after the game, the Israeli said: "It's a great, great win for me, clay is not the surface I prefer but today I played as if it was hard courts and everything worked very well for me."
Things had not worked out so well for Sela earlier, in the first game of the tie as he found himself on the receiving end of a thrashing by Steve Darcis.
Sela, the highest ranked player in the tie, would have expected a difficult match against the man responsible for knocking Rafael Nadal out of this year’s Wimbledon Championships, but few would have predicted such a comprehensive victory for the Belgian, ranked 165 in the world.
The defeat also means Sela remains without a Davis Cup victory on clay.
Darcis got off to the best possible start breaking the Israeli in the first game of the match, setting the tone for what was to come. Backed by an enthusiastic home crowd, the Belgian eased his way through the first set, taking it 6-1 in just over half an hour, a time that would have been significantly less but for a lengthy 6th game. The second set continued in the same fashion as the previous one with Sela finding himself being broken early on. The Israeli had chances on the Darcis serve but failed to take them and cut a disconsolate figure at the end of the second set, which he lost 6-2.
Broken again in his first service game of the third set, Sela was all but done, though he did stage a mini fightback with a break of the Darcis serve. It was to be a false dawn though, with the Belgian completing the win in fitting fashion, by breaking the Sela serve to record a 6-1 6-2 6-2 victory in a rapid 1 hour and 52 minutes.
Predictably from the amount of breaks, it was the serve which let down Israel’s number one, winning just 49% of points on his first serve and 40% on his second, while not recording a single ace.
The two matches leave the tie evenly poised heading into today’s doubles match (Darcis and Olivier Rochus against Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram). Israel will look to the experienced pair to give them the advantage, with a win leaving them needing just one win in the final two singles games to secure their place again in the Davis Cup World Group.
Written by David Morris