Israel reached the Davis Cup semi-finals for the first time on Saturday while 32-time champions the US kept their hopes making the last four alive.
Israel stunned 2002 and 2006 champions Russia taking an unassailable 3-0 lead when Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram clinched the crucial point beating Igor Kunitsyn and Marat Safin 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (3/7), 4-6, 6-4.
Israel will face either defending champions Spain or Germany in September’s semi-finals while Russia suffered their earliest defeat in six years.
Israeli captain Eyal Ran was carried shoulder-high around the Tel Aviv venue as he took the applause of the 10,000-strong crowd.
“I have to thank the team for all the remarkable work they have done,” Ran said.
“I felt throughout the match that we were the better players on the court so I was confident the whole time. They came up with the energy from the crowd and they just did it,” he said.
Referring to Ehrlich and Ram he said: “We had two F-16 jets on the tennis court.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu congratulated the team and former prime minister Ehud Olmert was among the noisy 10,000 crowd in the Nokia Arena.
Israel’s previous best performance in the Davis Cup was in 1987 when they reached the quarter-finals only to lose to India.
On Friday, they had opened up a 2-0 lead when Harel Levy beat Igor Andreev 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 before Dudi Sela saw off Mikhail Youzhny 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-5.
In Porec, meanwhile, world No. 1 pair Bob and Mike Bryan kept the US alive in their quarter-final against Croatia with a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 doubles win over Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko.
Croatia still led the tie 2-1 ahead of yesterday’s reverse singles.
Unlike Friday’s marathon singles program, which finished at 1am, Saturday’s doubles lasted just 68 minutes with last weekend’s Wimbledon runners-up in total control.
“We’re really happy we’re back in this thing,” said Mike Bryan. “We wanted to keep it short after they played for about nine hours yesterday. The guys believe we can actually win this tie, and that’s the biggest thing.”
The eventual winners of the tie will meet either the Czech Republic or last year’s runners-up Argentina in the last four.
The Czechs opened up a 2-1 lead in Prague when Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek saw off Jose Acasuso and Leonardo Mayer 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 after the two teams had shared Friday’s opening singles.
Argentine skipper Tito Vazquez caused a surprise by choosing not to select world No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro to play in the doubles.
“The decision was planned in advance so that the Czech Republic would put all their best players in the doubles,” Vazquez said. “We were hoping it would be a long match so we had a better chance on Sunday [in the reverse singles].
“Our advantage in the first of the singles is that Berdych will have played eight sets in two days while del Potro will have played only three,” he said.
In Marbella, defending champions Spain, playing without injured world No.2 Rafael Nadal, opened up a 2-1 lead over Germany when Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco defeated Nicolas Kiefer and Mischa Zverev 6-3, 7-6 (1/7) 6-7 (6/8), 6-3.
Verdasco had given Spain the early advantage on Friday with a five-set defeat of Andreas Beck, but it was all square at 1-1 thanks to Philipp Kohlschreiber’s straight-sets win over Tommy Robredo.