* Israel beat Sweden 3-2
* Tie played behind closed doors
MALMO, Sweden, March 8 (Reuters) - Israel beat seven-times champions Sweden 3-2 in the Davis Cup first round on Sunday after an heroic five-set win by Harel Levy over Andreas Vinciguerra behind the closed doors of the Baltic Hall.
The three-day tie was overshadowed by security concerns with host city Malmo deciding to close the hall to the public, and only some 400 media representatives, sponsors and guests witnessed the drama of the deciding rubber.
Levy triumphed 6-4 4-6 6-4 3-6 8-6 after a nerve-racking, roller-coaster fifth set in which both players failed to convert important points.
“Winning here is an amazing feeling,” Levy told reporters. “I was nervous during the entire match, not just during the fifth set.”
Levy fought off break points with some gutsy play at 4-4 and 5-5. Leading 6-5, the Israeli had a match point that Vinciguerra saved with a rare serve-and-volley approach.
At 7-6, Vinciguerra saved another match point at 30-40 in the same manner but moments later the Swede blew a simple forehand to give Levy the match.
It was sweet revenge for the Israelis, who lost to the Swedes at the same stage last year in Tel Aviv. The win put them into the Davis Cup quarter-finals for only the second time, after they went through in 1987.
Israel face Russia in the last eight on July 10-12.
“Today it was not just Israel that won, sports won,” Israel captain Eyal Ran told reporters. “I think those who were here could really enjoy the game and we made history today going into the quarter-finals.”
Malmo’s decision to shut out fans was severely criticised by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Israeli players.
Around 1,000 police officers have been on duty in the southern harbour city, which has a large Muslim community.
On Saturday, more than 6,000 protesters demonstrated against Israel’s participation in the competition outside fences surrounding the Baltic Hall.
“We have tried to put politics aside, because politics and sports don’t go together. I’m not a politician, I’m a sportsman. I try to do my job,” said Levy.
Earlier on Sunday, Dudi Sela had brought Israel back to 2-2 by defeating Thomas Johansson 3-6 6-1 4-6 6-4 6-2. Sela, Israel’s top-ranked team member, had beaten Vinciguerra in five tough sets on the opening day.
Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open champion who came back to competition this weekend after a four-month injury lay-off, started strongly but clearly tired in the fifth set and also had to cope with a sore back.
Sweden captain Mats Wilander paid tribute to Johansson and the injury-plagued Vinciguerra.
“In many ways, this is a heavy loss. But in some ways it’s not heavy, the way I’ve seen both Andreas and Thomas fight,” he said.
“You almost feel bad as a coach demanding them to win when they’re both so far away from their normal level...Sure we lost, but we lost honourably.”
The event was the second time that a Davis Cup tie had been closed to the public. In 1975, also in Sweden, Bjorn Borg and his team mates beat Chile, ruled at the time by dictator Augusto Pinochet, in Bastad.
Editing by Clare Fallon
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