LONDON (Reuters) - Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich leapt into each others arms after they guided Israel into the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time on Saturday.
Israel was the only team to seal a place in the last four following the doubles, while the three other World Group ties hung in the balance after day two of the men’s team competition.
Ram and Erlich hung on for almost four hours to beat twice former champions Russia following a thrilling 6-3 6-4 6-7 4-6 6-4 win over Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn in Tel Aviv.
In a year when Israeli tennis players have been barred from playing in countries such as Dubai and forced to play Davis Cup ties behind closed doors, as they were in Sweden, Eyal Ran’s men became the toast of the nation on Saturday.
“We are on the map again. You have made our people proud,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Bob and Mike Bryan kept the United States in the hunt for a semi-final place with a 6-3 6-1 6-3 win over Croatian pair Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko in Porec.
The Bryan brothers had to win the doubles to take the tie into a third day after the U.S. came off second best in Friday’s epic singles matches, which both went to five sets.
“It’s going to be a hard fought contest tomorrow... (to come) back from losing 2-0,” Mike Bryan told reporters.
The Czech Republic grabbed a 2-1 lead over 2008 runners-up Argentina in Ostrava while champions Spain, who are having to make do without injured world number two Rafael Nadal, also nosed 2-1 ahead of Germany in Marbella.
Israel’s doubles win gave them an unbeatable 3-0 lead and sparked jubilant celebrations among the 11,000 fans crammed into the Sports Palace arena to witness the momentous occasion.
While Ram and Erlich went into a celebratory huddle with the rest of the Israeli camp at the end, Safin was left to reflect on his last Davis Cup tie because the former world number one will be retiring at the end of the year.
“Everybody has dreams but there are some you don’t allow yourself to have and beating Russia 3-0 was just like that... but we have done it,” a beaming Erlich said.
Ram added in a courtside interview: “For the first time I have absolutely nothing to say... I started to cry like a little boy.”
No tears were shed in Marbella but Fernando Verdasco said he was “super happy” after he and fellow left-hander Feliciano Lopez handed Spain the psychological edge with a 6-3 7-6 6-7 6-3 win over Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer and Mischa Zverev.
Despite the absence of Nadal, Spain will be confident of winning one of Sunday’s two reverse singles to secure a semi-final date with Israel.
The Americans, champions a record 32 times, will be aiming to have plenty to say on Sunday by winning both reverse singles against hosts Croatia.
Without the services of world number six Andy Roddick, the Americans will rely on James Blake and Mardy Fish to steer their fortunes, with the winners meeting the Czechs or Argentina.
Tomas Berdych was drafted in at the last minute to partner Radek Stepanek and Czech captain Jaroslav Navratil’s gamble paid off as his men beat Argentine hot-heads Jose Acasuso and Leonardo Mayer 6-1 6-4 6-3.
The Argentines repeatedly argued with the umpire over line calls and Mayer also turned his racket into a mangled wreck but their emotional outbursts failed to have any effect on their opponents, who kept their focus to win in just under two hours.
Editing by Ken Ferris