Despite the Heat, Russia Upbeat Ahead of Israel Showdown

The Russian sports media may be treating the upcoming Davis Cup semi-final match against Israel as a vacation - the headline in one newspaper proclaimed that the encounter would be like "a trip to the Dead Sea" - but members of the team itself are taking the showdown much more seriously, even if, on paper, the Russians are far superior to their Israeli opponents. "No one here is frightened of the Israeli team," says tennis writer Yvgeny Pediakov of Sport Express, "but no one is taking anything for granted."

The captain of the Russian Davis Cup team, Shamil Tarpishchev, at first said he would have preferred to meet the Swedes in the next round, since he was concerned that his players would have a hard time adjusting to the hard court surface at Ramat Hasharon so soon after the Wimbledon Championships, which are played on grass. Later, however, Tarpishchev described the Israeli victory over Sweden as "neutral" for the Russian team.

As befits the Tarpishchev era of Russian tennis, the Russian team will prepare for the Israel showdown with the utmost thoroughness. The Russians are due to arrive in Israel a week before the encounter, scheduled for July 10 to 12, in order to acclimatize to the oppressive heat of the Israeli summer. Tarpishchev is also determined to have the Hawk-Eye system - a computer system used in cricket, tennis and other sports to visually track the path of the ball and display a record of its actual path as graphic image - installed in Ramat Gan by July, in order to minimize the dependence on local, and possibly partisan, line judges. The Russian Tennis Federation was responsible for installing and funding the Hawk-Eye system in Romania ahead of the Davis Cup tie there over the weekend, which the Russians won 4-1.

It is still unclear which players will represent Russia against Israel. One player who has said he is determined to play, if fit, is Mikhail Youzhny, who has never visited the Holy Land and is expected to bring his Jewish coach, Boris Sobkin, with him. Marat Safin, who is expected to announce his retirement after the Masters Series tournament in Bercy, France in October - the same stadium where he won the 2002 Davis Cup - will decide over the next few months whether he will play in Israel or not. In fact, all eight Russian players currently in the Top 100 are candidates to represent their country against Israel.

According to Sobkin, playing Israel is better for Russia than a showdown with Sweden, which could have called on some top-tier players that were missing from the match against Israel. The prevalent opinion among Russian sports writers and commentators is that a semi-final clash with Spain in Moscow in September is well within the reach of the country's Davis Cup team.