Israel reached the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time with a stunning 4-1 victory over Russia in Tel Aviv at the weekend.
The 10,800 capacity crowd at the Nokia Arena went wild as Israel raced into a decisive 3-0 lead over the first two days of the tie.
Israel’s chances were improved by the fact that Russia — the Davis Cup champions in 2002 and 2006 — were without their two top-ranked players through injury. But no one expected 210th-ranked Harel Levy to sweep aside Igor Andreev (24) in four sets in the opening rubber.
In the second match, Dudi Sela recovered from losing the first set to take the next three against Mikhail Youzhny.
On the second day, doubles specialists Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich faced Igor Kunitsyn and Marat Safin, providing high drama as they raced into a two-set lead before letting the Russians level the scores. But the Israelis took the final set 6-4, sparking joyful celebrations in and beyond the arena.
“This is the greatest ever Israeli sporting achievement,” exclaimed Amos Mansdorf, who led Israel in their one previous Davis Cup quarter-final appearance in 1987. “To be one of the top four tennis nations is very special.” Basketball aside, it is the first time Israel have reached the semi-finals of a major competition.
Non-playing captain Eyal Ran said: “When we won promotion to the World Group two years ago, people said we would not be able to survive. I always believed we could do well because although we may not have some of the world’s best individual players, we have perhaps the best team. We have a great fighting spirit and will to win. I hope we can use this victory to boost tennis in the country because we need young players to come through for the next generation. We have talented teenagers but we must invest in them.”
In the dead rubbers, Sela retired with a hand injury in the first set against Andreev, while Levy embellished his heroic contribution by beating 35th-ranked Kunitsyn.
Levy’s contribution was hailed by Sela, who has risen another three places to a career high of 30 after his victory over Youzhny.
“Harel made it easy for us by winning the first game against Andreev,” he said. “He really threw the Russians off balance and destroyed their plans.”
It was not the first significant Davis Cup display from Levy, who starred in the victory away to Sweden in February. But his performances against Russia were the sweetest of all.
“I have beaten some great players in the past but to win for your country in the quarter-final of the Davis Cup is very special,” he said.
Israel Tennis Federation chairman Michael Klein reported that income from ticket sales, advertising and sponsorship had been a record $300,000. “This was the best possible advertisement for tennis,” he said.
Israel now face a Rosh Hashanah date away to Davis Cup holders Spain in the semi-finals. “It will be very difficult but at the moment I believe we can beat anybody,” Ran maintained.