Is­rael blown off the court by Ukraine in Ra­mat Hasharon

The Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - R #Z "--0/ 4*/"* (Yoni Arieli)

Is­rael’s Davis Cup team is in se­ri­ous dan­ger of be­ing rel­e­gated to Europa/Africa Group II for the first time since 2001 af­ter fall­ing to an unas­sail­able 3-0 deficit to Ukraine in the first round of the Group I Rel­e­ga­tion Play-Offs at Ra­mat Hasharon on Satur­day.

Is­rael was hop­ing to se­cure another year in Group I with a home win over the Ukraini­ans, but in­stead it was the visi­tors who were cel­e­brat­ing at Canada Sta­dium with one day of matches still to come.

Dudi Sela and Edan Leshem didn’t even man­age to claim a set in Fri­day’s sin­gles rub­bers and Sela and Yoni Er­lich’s come­back from a two-set deficit in Satur­day’s dou­bles en­counter ul­ti­mately proved to be mean­ing­less, with the Ukraini­ans win­ning a fifth-set tie-break to main­tain their Group I sta­tus.

Is­rael’s sur­vival in Group I will come down to a tie next month against the loser of the show­down be­tween Aus­tria and Ro­ma­nia.

Aus­tria en­ters the fi­nal day of matches with a 2-1 lead and as a firm fa­vorite to tri­umph, with its squad boast­ing world No. 7 Dominic Thiem.

Is­rael had won the three pre­vi­ous ties it had hosted in the coun­try, not los­ing at home since fall­ing to Canada in Ra­mat Hasharon in the World Group play­offs in Septem­ber 2011. But it was clear the blue-and-white was in deep trou­ble against Ukraine when Sela, ranked No. 67 in the world, was beaten 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-3 by Illya Marchenko (286) in Fri­day’s open­ing con­test.

Leshem (290) en­tered his match against Alexandr Dol­go­polov (52) with low ex­pec­ta­tions and no one was re­ally sur­prised that the Is­raeli lost 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

Sela and Er­lich man­aged to fight back from two sets down against Sergiy Stakhovsky and Denys Molchanov in the dou­bles, but couldn’t com­plete the job in the fifth set, even­tu­ally fall­ing 7-5, 7-6(6), 1-6, 4-6, 7-6(4) in just over four hours.

“Los­ing is part of sport, but we should have played a lot bet­ter,” said Er­lich. “This is one of the most dis­ap­point­ing de­feats I have ever ex­pe­ri­enced at home. We were the bet­ter team and we should have found a way to win.”

Cap­tain Eyal Ran tried to draw some en­cour­age­ment from Sela and Er­lich’s fight­ing spirit.

“We thought the tie would still be alive in the fi­nal day,” said Ran. “The guys gave their all and that is re­ally all we can ask for.”

Ran spoke in de­fense of Sela, who lost for the third time in four sin­gles rub­bers he has played for Is­rael since the start of 2016.

“There has been a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity on Dudi’s shoul­ders for many years,” ex­plained Ran. “He needs to play day af­ter day. Things didn’t go his way on Fri­day and he wasn’t able to dis­play his best ten­nis.

“But he keeps on fight­ing and would have been ready to play on Sun­day if he needed to.” IS­RAEL NO. 1 Dudi Sela won’t want to re­mem­ber much from this weekend af­ter los­ing in both the sin­gles and the dou­bles in the blue-and-white’s 3-0 de­feat to Ukraine in Europa/Africa Group I Davis Cup ac­tion at Ra­mat Hasharon.

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