Israel’s hopes of reaching the Davis Cup final for the first time received a major boost after two of the world’s top 10 ranked players withdrew from the Spanish squad on the eve of the clash in Murcia.
Going into the last four tie, Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal (3) and Fernando Verdasco (10) pulled out with injury concerns for the defending champions.
With Croatia or the Czech Republic awaiting the winner, the Israelis will be looking to repeat their giant-killing feat against Russia in the quarter-final in July.
The hosts remain strong though with Tommy Robredo (15), David Ferrer (19), Juan Carlos Ferrero (25) and Feliciano Lopez (37) pitting their wits against Dudi Sela (35), Harel Levy (138) and doubles specialists Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich.
Israel’s captain Eyal Ran is under no illusions about the scale of the task facing his squad. “Spain are favourites but we believe we can win,” Ran said. “We are concentrating on our own abilities.
“The clay surface is unfamiliar to us and is very slow after a lot of rain at the start of the week. But we won’t let it worry us and we’ll get used to it.”
Sela said: “I’m pleased Nadal is not playing but Spain are still the best team in the world. But we have a marvellous team spirit and that can help overcome Spain’s individual superiority.”
The form book gives Israel room for optimism, although a 12,000 partisan crowd in the southern Spain makes the task even harder. Sela beat Robredo in the third round at Wimbledon in June, and Harel Levy beat Russian players ranked 24 and 35 in the world to clinch the match against Russia.
After the tie, Erlich will resume his doubles partnership with Ram on the ATP tour for the remainder of the season. After reaching the semi-finals at the US Open, Ram and his Belarus partner Max Mirnyi are assured a top-eight finish this year, a position that qualifies them for November’s Masters tournament in London.