Israel won a place in the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time ever yesterday after achieving a stunning victory over tennis giant Russia.
Doubles pair Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich finished a 3-0 series sweep for Israel in its quarterfinal against Russia, defeating Marat Safin and Igor Kunitsyn in five sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 4-6, 6-4 in front of a capacity crowd at Tel Aviv's Nokia Arena.
The Israeli pair had the chance to finish things early when they served for the match in the third set, but were made to fight harder than expected after the Russians fought back to force the tie into a fifth and deciding set.
Ram and Erlich, the 2008 Australian Open doubles champions, said yesterday's win was the biggest moment of their careers.
"This is something I will cherish for the rest of my life," said Erlich, who recently came back from a 10-month injury layoff.
A teary-eyed Ram was overwrought with emotion as he addressed the audience which came to support them yesterday.
"This is the biggest moment of my life," he said.
Tzipi Obziler, a member of Israel's Federation Cup team, also congratulated the male team on their acheivement.
Meanwhile, Russia's Safin took personal responsibility for his team's loss.
"Israel should thank me, I am responsible for losing," the former number one said. "That's life and that's sport, one time you're up, the next you're down. We were lucky against Argentina but now our luck has changed."
When asked whether he thought Israel was one of the world's four best tennis teams, Safin replied: "You're among [the top four], there's no arguing with facts."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the director general of the Israel Tennis Association and congratulated him on the win.
"We're back on the map," Netanyahu said, paraphrasing basketball player Tal Brody's famous quote when Maccabi Tel Aviv won the European championship title. "You've filled our hearts with pride and joy."
Israel took a surprising lead in the series on Friday after Dudi Sela and Harel Levy both won their singles matches.
Sela, who moved up 13 places to number 33 in the world rankings after reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon last week, came from one set down to beat former world number eight Mikhail Youzhny, 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-5.
Earlier, Levy, who is ranked 210 in the world, set the tone for the series when he upset world number 24 Igor Andreev, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.
Two-time Davis Cup winner Russia made it to the semifinals in each of the past five years. By contrast, Israel only reached the quarterfinals once before, losing to India in New Delhi in 1987.
Israel will play either Germany at home or Spain away in the semifinals, which will take place on September 18-20.
Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez handed Spain a 2-1 lead yesterday after beating German doubles pair Nicolas Kiefer and Mischa Zverev 6-3 7-6 6-7 6-3.
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