The year is 1984. Israel is up 2-1 against the Soviet Union in their Davis Cup encounter. Young Soviet captain Shamil Tarpischchev picks Andrei Chesnokov, an unknown rookie ranked 15th among his players, to take on Israel?s top player, Shlomo Glickstein.?
?People said I was crazy,? Tarpischchev, who still captains Russia?s Davis Cup team, told Haaretz earlier this week. ?Glickstein was at his peak, close to the top 20, and everyone said we would lose whatever chance we had [if I used Chesnokov]. But I saw what great shape Chesnokov was in, how much he wanted to succeed, and I remembered the old saying: ?Those who do not dare, do not drink champagne.? I took a chance and won the jackpot.??
Tarpischchev himself was still green at the time of the competition, which the Soviets ended up winning, and his team was considered the underdog. Now the tables have turned. As both teams prepare for their Davis Cup encounter next weekend, the Russian captain heads a delegation of over 100 with a selection of players who vastly outrank Israel?s.?
Tarpischchev seems to have always been around, as though he were an Old Bolshevik. Over the years he gained influence in Moscow and played tennis with the likes of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin. When he wants something for his players, he gets it ? which is why he does not understand how the Israel Tennis Association decided to host the face-off in Tel Aviv?s Yad Eliyahu facility instead of at its home at Ramat Hasharon?s Canada Stadium, despite it being the players? preference.?
?If we?re objective, then I think the Israeli decision will make things easier for us. It will be less humid, less hot,? he says.?
The ?monkey cage??
Following the competition between Israel and Russian during the Federation Cup, Russian media dubbed the Ramat Hasharon venue as the ?monkey cage? ? because of the local fans? spirited support.?
?Why are Russian supporters quieter?? the Russian captain asks. ?It?s about respecting the other team.??
His team also has a large following. When they played in Paris, some 3,000 Russian fans were in the stands. Another 800 traveled all the way to Argentina to show support. But relatively few will come to Israel, probably because of exorbitant prices being asked by travel agents.?
His team may be the favorite, but Tarpischchev by no means thinks they are guaranteed to win.?
?Every away win is tough,? he says. ?Winning requires a combination of the players? opinions, faith, respecting the opponent and dealing with stress.??
He speaks from experience: Tarpischchev has a degree in psychology and he certainly has a lot to be proud of. Tennis is now hugely popular in Russia. Renting a court costs ? twice as much as in France or Switzerland. It is now even more popular than ice hockey, Tarpischchev claims. The team?s popularity has raised expectations and Israel?s ace Dudi Sela will try to thwart Russia from advancing to the next round.?
?Dudi Sela is certainly a good player, he?s not among the top 50 for nothing,? Tarpischchev says of the player who last week reached the 4th round of Wimbledon, his best ever showing. ?But winning a competition is about more than one player.?
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