Israel’s Amir Weintraub won a thrilling five-set match against Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans last night to level the Davis Cup World Group playoff after Dudi Sela had been comprehensively outplayed in the opening rubber.
Playing on an unfamiliar red clay surface in Antwerp, Weintraub managed to put a smile on Israeli sports fans’ faces, after a week that saw hugely disappointing performances by national teams in soccer’s World Cup qualifying tournament and the European basketball championships.
Israel got off to the worst possible start in the first singles rubber, with Dudi Sela losing the fine form that took him to the second round of the U.S. Open last month. Sela, ranked 85th in the world, was comprehensively outplayed by Steve Darcis, losing in straight sets (6-1, 6-2, 6-2) in under two hours.
Next up for Israeli was Amir Weintraub, who faced off against Ruben Bemelmans and who put up much more of a fight than Israel’s most senior male player. The 26-year-old Israeli got off to a flying start, breaking his opponent twice to take the first set 6-3, with some outstanding backhand winners.
Weintraub’s game petered off in the second set (2-6), allowing his opponent to get a foothold in the rubber, and then the Belgian player won a third-set tiebreaker to take a 2-1 lead. But Weintraub wasn’t done. A tense fourth set also went down to a tiebreaker, which the Israeli won, leveling the rubber at 2-2.
An even tenser final set went with service for the first eight games, but, with his confidence growing, Weintraub started playing some of the best tennis of his career. He broke Bemelmans’ serve to take a 5-4 leave and then served out for the match.
In today’s doubles rubber Andy Ran and Yoni Erlich will face Darcis and Olivier Rochus; the reverse singles rubbers will be played on Sunday.