With Spain’s best players, Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco, out of commission due to abdominal muscle injuries, the defending Davis Cup champion had to rely on an alternate squad to bat in the semifinals against Israel. Unfortunately for first time semifinalist Israel, the tandem of David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Tommy Robredo and Feliciano Lopez showed no cracks.
Spurred on by their home crowd as well as cheerleaders Nadal and Verdasco, the Spaniards gave an A+ performance. As a result, by Saturday, Spain had carried all three rubbers to safely move on to the finals for the second straight year. Although with the clay Israel was at a conspicuous disadvantage, it still put up an admirable fight. On Friday, Ferrer got his team off to a great start with a 6-1,6-4,6-3 victory over Harel Levy. Subsequently, Israel’s best singles offering Dudi Sela battled Juan Carlos Ferrero. Despite Sela’s valiant effort, with a far more competitive rubber than the score reflected, Sela could not keep up with the former French Open champion. Ferrero prevailed 6-4,6-2,6-0.
On Saturday, with Spain ahead two matches to none, the 2008 Australian doubles champion and renowned Israeli pair Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich represented Israel’s best opportunity to keep its remarkable run alive. The Israelis encountered a wall as Robredo & Lopez, who seldom play as a unit, came up victorious 7-6,6-7,6-4,6-2. With neither team able to capitalize on break point chances, the first set was captured by Spain in a tiebreaker. However, the Israelis quickly reversed that momentum in the second set when Lopez double faulted at 0-40 giving them a 1-0 edge. After Israel consolidated, Robredo saved three break points to maintain a one game deficit at 1-2. With Israel serving for the set at 4-5, Erlich committed a myriad of volley errors which allowed Spain to get back on serve. Following Robredo’s love service game for 6-5, Israel up 40-15 needed Ram’s sensational volleying skills to efface a break point and eventually get into a tiebreaker. Shortly after, a backhand volley error by Erlich permitted the Spaniards to build a 4-1 lead. Yet, this resilient Israeli pair saved five set points and equalized the match when Robredo’s forehand volley sailed long.
In the third set, Spain converted triple break point, then broke Israel a second time for 3-0 with some spectacular forehands by Robredo. Although Erlich and Ram closed the gap slightly by breaking, the insurance break was just the cushion the Spaniard required to claim the set. Only weeks removed from right elbow surgery, Erlich couldn’t contend with the blows from the Spanish side. Serving at 1 all in the fourth, a low backhand return by Lopez forced Erlich to volley up resulting in break point. Furthermore, at this critical stage, pain in the elbow caused Erlich to request an injury time out. Soon, back at service line, Erlich surrendered his serve. After consolidating, the Spaniards broke again to extend their lead to 4-1. A few games later, at love, Lopez punched his nation’s passage into the finals.
Today, as ordained by the rules, the remaining rubbers took place. In the initial one, Ferrer defeated Ram 6-3,6-1. Israel avoided a shutout as Levy carried the second match 7-5, 6-2 over Lopez. Despite this outcome, the Israelis will look back on 2009 with fondness and great pride. Prior to being derailed by Spain, Israel registered victories over powerhouses Sweden and Russia.
Spain will battle Czech Republic, the latter makes it’s first appearance in the finals since 1980. At that time, the territory was in one piece and called Czechoslovakia. The Czechs also secured their entry into the final round on Saturday after winning all three rubbers. On Friday, Radek Stepanek tranquilized a hostile Croatian crowd, stared down 78 aces and took one minute shy of 6 hours before edging out Ivo Karlovic 6-7,7-6,7-6,6-7,16-14. On the heel of one of the longest matches in Davis Cup history, Tomas Berdych, not wanting to be outdone by his countryman, took down Marin Cilic 6-3,6-3,3-6,4-6,6-3 after 3hours and 48 minutes. Still with plenty of reserve, Berdych and Stepanek teamed up on Saturday in what must have seemed like a practice session to beat Lovro Zvoko and Cilic 6-1,6-3,6-4. So today’s action featured two dead rubbers. Czech Jan Hajek defeated Roko Karnusic 7-6,6-4. The home audience did not leave empty handed as Zvoko prevailed over Lukas Dlouhy 6-3, 6-4.
The finals will be decided in December with Spain hosting the Czechs Republic. Although both teams performed well on clay this weekend, the Spaniards with the best clay players around, even with Nadal sidelined, will be hard to be. Therefore, it will take a formidable performance by the Czechs to prevent Spain from capturing it’s fourth cup this decade.