Weeks of hectic preparation, heavy perspiration and wild speculation will come to a head this afternoon as Israel welcomes Russia for their Davis Cup quarterfinal tie.
For the occasion, Israel - a team that until recently had not had a single player in the world top 50 - has left its usual outdoor stomping grounds at the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center in favor of south Tel Aviv's air-conditioned and parquet-floored Yad Eliahu arena.
"Playing in this venue is an unfamiliar situation for us," said captain Eyal Ran yesterday. "But at least we've been using much less sunscreen this week. Although we miss Ramat Hasharon, we're enjoying ourselves at Yad Eliahu and hoping to start a new legacy. We've needed a few days to get used to the new surface, but now we're very happy with it."
The only thing certain at this point is the order of play, determined in yesterday's draw. Russian Igor Andreev, ranked 24th, will play Harel Levy, and top-ranked Israeli player Dudi Sela will face Mikhail Youzhny.
"Beginning the tie is always more emotional, because already with the first ball the fans get excited and push for the local players," said Andreev. "But I have confidence in my own game."
Sela, fresh off his historic Wimbledon appearance in which he became the first Israeli in decades to reach the tournament's fourth round, now feels as if the eyes of the entire country are upon him. His task will not be easy - just six months ago his opponent was ranked eighth in the world.
"I feel good and confident in myself," Sela told reporters. "But I also know that a difficult battle is ahead."
Youzhny also knows a match against Sela is rarely a stroll through the park. "I have a tough match before me. It could be that if a comparison were made between us right now, the advantage would be with Sela."
Of the 10,300 tickets put on sale, only a few remain, which will be sold this morning on the online ticket seller Leaan. A special ticket booth will also be set up at the arena for soldiers, offering a limited number of tickets for Friday and Saturday's matches to those showing their military IDs.
"We're approaching this match-up with great ambitions," said Ran. "I know each of the players will rise to the occasion, and I'm sure we will have opportunities. If the players are courageous and smart enough to take them, anything can happen."
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