Israel missed out on the chance to rejoin the Davis Cup World Group after losing both singles matches to Belgium in Antwerp on Sunday.
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After taking a 2-1 lead in the match by winning Friday’s doubles, Israel needed to win just one of Sunday’s reverse singles matches, but Dudi Sela was unable to recapture his recent good form and Amir Weintraub failed to reproduce his heroics from Thursday and the home nation recorded a 3-2 victory.
Sela, who had been humiliated by Steve Darcis in the first singles match on Thursday, lost the first set of Sunday’s rubber to Ruben Bemelmans (7-5). He took advantage of a several lapses of concentration by his Belgian opponent to take the second set 6-3, but from that moment on it was one-way traffic. Sela lost the third set to zero in just 30 minutes, seeing his serve broken no fewer than three times.
Playing solid baseline tennis, Bemelmans raced to a 4-2 lead in what proved to be the final set. Sela won the next two games to level at 4-4, but Bemelmans kept his cool to win the last two games and win the set 6-4.
Sela’s loss meant that Weintraub – ranked 184th in the world – needed to beat Darcis in the final and decisive rubber. But, egged on by a partisan home crowd, the Belgian never looked in any kind of trouble. He won the match 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, sparking jubilant scenes among the Belgian team and their 5,000 supporters at the Lotto Arena.
After the match, Israel’s captain, Eyal Ran, was left to rue his team’s missed opportunity.
“Leading 2-1 going into the third day gives you a big chance to win,” he said. “It gives you two chances to try and seal the tie. We tried everything we had in the book: we tried different tactics, we tried everything we could. The guys fought hard and they kept their heads up high. I think the surface and home crowd gave the Belgium team an advantage – and Steve Darcis was impossible to penetrate. I though Amir played well today. His serve was hurting Darcis a little bit and he was very aggressive, but today it wasn’t enough.”
Weintraub said Darcis “played absolutely brilliant tennis and he deserved to win.”
Sela said that losing his service game nine times was not the main reason for his defeat. “I don’t think it was just that,” he said. “It was the whole match. I’m not very confident on this clay surface. I knew I was the favorite to win the match, but I played terribly. I’m very disappointed.”