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Israel takes 2-1 lead vs Argentina in Davis Cup

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Led by the doubles team of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, Israel took a 2-1 lead over Argentina on Saturday afternoon in a best-of-five Davis Cup World Group playoff.

Erlich and Ram defeated Argentina’s Federico Delbonis and Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in 91-degree heat at the Sunrise Tennis Center.

Ram pulled a muscle in his left leg with Israel leading 4-2 in the fifth set, and was forced to serve ever-so-slowly in the final game of the match.

Argentina hammered his weak serves, but Erlich managed several successful volleys to help his team get the win.

“There were missiles coming at me,” Erlich joked. “I tried not to get killed.”

The event was originally a home match for Israel in Tel Aviv. But the International Tennis Federation moved it to Florida because of safety concerns.

Israel broke Zeballos’ serve to go up 3-1 in the fifth set. Zeballos also hit the game’s final shot into the net, touching off a wild celebration for the Israeli players and fans.

Favored Argentina is ranked fourth in Davis Cup. Israel is ranked 19th.

The competition resumes with reverse singles on Sunday. Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer takes on Dudi Sela, followed by Carlos Berlocq against Israel’s Bar Botzer.

The winning country becomes one of 16 teams that will compete to win the 2015 Davis Cup. The loser will play next year in World Group II.

In Friday’s action, Mayer beat Botzer, and Sela defeated Berlocq.

Erlich and Ram improved 19-5 when playing Davis Cup together, making them the best doubles team in their nation’s history. Ram, 34, announced earlier this year that this would be his final season of pro tennis.

Erlich, 37, was born in Argentina, and Ram is a native of another South American country, Uruguay.

Ram wept on the court after the match and then his teammates tossed him in the air in celebration.

For Argentina, Delbonis, 23, was making his Davis Cup debut. In singles last year, he beat Roger Federer in the semifinals of the German Open, but Delbonis is just 7-17 in doubles on the ATP Tour.

Zeballos, 29, has more experience than his partner. He is 4-3 in Davis Cup matches, and he beat Rafael Nadal in singles in 2013. He has made two Grand Slam semifinals in doubles – 2010 U.S. Open and 2013 French.

But this was just the second time Delbonis and Zeballos have played together. Zeballos has little experience playing next to a left-hander such as Delbonis.

Zeballos’ most recent Davis Cup partner, Juan Monaco, was replaced prior to this tie due to a right-wrist injury.

It has been 24 years since Argentina has come back from a deficit to win a Davis Cup tie. Argentina captain Martin Jaite said Israel’s lead is not a fluke.

“We knew that being down one was possible,” Jaite said, “and maybe even logical. I’m not surprised.”

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