This weekend's Europe/Africa Zone first-round tennis match against Serbia will mark Dudi Sela's first appearance on home soil in the competition, after a successful debut in last year's relegation tie against Zimbabwe.
Sela, Israel's No. 1 singles player, is ranked No. 170 in the world, while his Serb counterpart Novak Djokovic, against whom he has played on the junior circuit, has already climbed to No. 70 and reached the semifinals of the Zagreb Tournament last week.
But the Israeli teenager was brimming with confidence yesterday. "I've played against them [the Serbs] on the circuit, and I know them well," Sela said at a press conference. "I hope the fact that we are playing at home and they are playing for the first time in the Davis Cup will play to my advantage."
Israel's No. 2 racket, Noam Okun, will provide the experience, and with Serbia No. 11-ranked doubles player Nenad Zimonjic missing the match with a shoulder injury, Andy Ram and Yonni Erlich are expected to take the points in the doubles rubber.
With Zimonjic absent, the Serb squad will also include Djokovic, Janko Tipsarevic, ranked 111 in the world; Ilija Bozoljac, ranked 180, and Viktor Traviki, ranked 336.
Djokovic and Tipsarevic will play the singles matches, but it is not yet clear who Serb captain Dejan Petrovic will field for the doubles.
Ram and Erlich know that after last year's letdown against the British pairing of Andrew Murray and David Sherwood, they owe the crowd at the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center a win.
"Last year's defeat was very painful, and it took us months to get over," Ram said yesterday. "Now we have to win to repay our debt and show our fans the level of tennis we have been producing year after year overseas."
Israel captain Eyal Ran, who is leading the team at home for the first time, adopted a cautious tone.
"We are up against a strong team, with a singles player in the top 100 in the world," Ran said. "On paper, they are the favorites, but with the help of our fans we will try to win."
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