Israel will host Russia in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup World Group in July after claiming a stunning 3-2 victory over Sweden in a controversial clash in Malmo.
In a decision that angered Swedish public opinion and the International Tennis Federation — and made Israel all the more determined to succeed — Malmo City Council banned spectators claiming that it could not secure the venue.
The call left thousands of anti-Israeli demonstrators outside the arena with police arresting 10 rock-throwing protesters as things turned violent. Inside there were just 300 invited spectators — 200 home supporters and 100 Israelis — and a series of dramatic twists and turns.
Former Australian Open quarter-finalist Shlomo Glickstein, who was part of the Israel team in 1987, was angry that the protests were permitted.
“It’s a great shame for Sweden that they couldn’t control the crowds.
“This protest should not have been allowed to happen as it’s obviously provocative to have a demonstration outside a stadium where a match is going on.
“It’s amazing that Israel was able to concentrate on the tennis.
“I believe that the captain, Eyal Ran, made sure that the players weren’t informed during the doubles, but they obviously found out afterwards.”
Israel’s success saw them reach the last eight for the first time since 1987. Harel Levy (219) sealed a memorable victory by winning a five-set thriller against Andreas Vinciguerra in the final game as the visitors exacted revenge for last year’s defeat at Ramat Hasharon.
“This was the greatest victory of my career,” said Levy, 30. “I’m already looking forward to the Russia match. I think we can beat anybody.”
Levy said he could remember little about the fifth set against Vinciguerra, which he won 8-6. “I’ve a blackout about the entire thing. I cannot remember the match but I can recall that I never despaired and was really enjoying the tennis.
“I think the Swedes were really hurt by having to play without the encouragement of fans,” he reflected.
Not only were the Swedes hit by injury but they lined-up with Thomas Johansson (163), who had not played for six months due to a foot injury, and Vinciguerra, who has been out for two years with back problems.
Any concerns that the Swedes might not be match fit were soon banished as the two opening rubbers went to five sets with Johansson beating Levy 8-6 in the final set and Dudi Sela overcoming Vinciguerra 11-9 in their fifth.
Ran came under fierce criticism for pairing Amir Hadad with Andy Ram for the doubles. Hadad, 29, looked overweight and it showed on court as they were beaten by Simon Aspelin and Robert Listadt. But Sela overcame Johanssen in five before Levy sealed matters.
The result sees Israel rise to eighth in the world. But with four players in the top 30, Russia, the new world No. 1s, will be formidable opponents as Israel tries to reach the semi-finals of the Davis Cup for the first time.