Ram and Erlich lead Olympic gold rush
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Tennis doubles specialists Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich are the best gold medal prospects among Israel's record 43-strong squad at the Beijing Olympics.
Ram and Erlich travel to China in top form after reaching the finals of the Cincinnati Masters on Sunday, where they lost in a deciding tie-break to the Bryan brothers.
Speaking to the JC before their flights to Beijing, Erlich said that he would settle for a silver medal performance. "Andy and I go out to win every tournament we play in," he said. "But in the Olympics the main thing is to come home with a medal, whatever the colour. Yet after losing so narrowly to the Bryans, who will be the top seeds in China, we feel we are good enough for gold."
Currently ranked three in the world, the Israelis expect to be the second seeds in China behind the Bryans.
The Olympic tournament can be unpredictable because it throws up unfamiliar pairings. World number ones Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic cannot play together because they are from different countries. In addition, some of the top singles players will be making a rare doubles appearance.
But Erlich and Ram are less concerned about the opposition than on reproducing the form which has seen them win their first grand slam title in Australia in January, as well as the Masters at Indian Wells in March.
Erlich admitted that it was disappointing not to retain their title in Cincinnati, having won their first Masters series tournament there last year.
But the main thing was that they were back in top form just before the Olympics.
"We had a great week," he said. "We haven't had such a good week for two or three months and we felt we really played well.
"I think we're back on track and that gives us a lot of confidence for the Olympics and the US Open."
Erlich, 31 - whose wife Mor is about to give birth to their first child - will not comment on rumours that he will quit the tennis circuit after the US Open later this month.
But Ram, 28, concedes he may lose his partner for a while. "I hope that Jonathan will only miss a few tournaments," he said. "Perhaps I'll play with Harel Levy instead. But I hope Jonathan will see things differently and come back soon."
But while tipping Erlich and Ram for a medal, Alex Gilady, an Israeli-born member of the International Olympic Committee, believes that the duo may be on the verge of a split. "They should do it [win medals] even if there are problems among the quartet," he said. "By that I mean the two tennis players and their wives.
"There are problems but it shouldn't harm them."
The Olympic tennis tournament starts on Monday and Gilady expects Erlich and Ram to be in the men's doubles final on August 18.