Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela defeats Swedish opponent at Davis Cup
Last update - 02:48 07/03/2009
Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela outlasted Andreas Vinciguerra 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 to pull Israel level with Sweden in a Davis Cup tie played in a near-empty stadium heavily guarded by police on Friday.
Thomas Johansson returned from injury to beat another Israeli player Harel Levy 6-7 (3), 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 in the opening match.
City officials banned spectators, saying they feared disruptions by activists protesting Israel's offensive in Gaza, a decision that was criticized by both teams as well as the International Tennis Federation. Few protesters showed up. Thousands are expected on Saturday.
A few dozen special guests were allowed inside the 4,000-seat Baltic Hall, depriving the Swedes of the raucous backing that home teams normally enjoy at Davis Cup ties. The loudest cheers came from a handful of Israel fans from London, who found a way around the ban.
"We managed to get invited as special guests of the Israeli team," said Jonathan Stoller, 26. "We didn't want to come all the way to Malmo without watching tennis."
Sela said it was disappointing to play before rows of empty seats in the
desolate arena, but added: "It was nice that there were some supporters at least."
He proved the strongest in a marathon baseline battle with Vinciguerra. The Swede saved a match point at 5-4 before breaking Sela's serve to keep the match alive in the final set.
But at 9-9, Vinciguerra double-faulted and volleyed into the net to give Sela the decisive break. The Israeli held his serve to level the tie at 1-1 heading into the doubles on Saturday.
Johansson had been out of action since October because of a foot injury, and his lack of practice showed in the opening match. The 2002 Australian Open champion made 65 unforced errors - 20 in the first set.
After dropping the first set in a tiebreaker, Johansson rebounded in the next two sets but lost his momentum with a flurry of unforced errors in the fourth.
The final set turned into a thriller as the players stayed level until 6-6.
Johansson broke Levy's serve and held his own to put the hosts ahead.
"I'm completely exhausted. I emptied everything I had," Johansson said with his left foot wrapped in ice.
Outside the tightly guarded arena, a small group of demonstrators held up a Palestinian flag and signs saying Stop the match. Police said the protest was peaceful.
"I think Malmo should have stopped the match completely, but to play in an empty arena is a half victory," protester Oscar Schon told The Associated Press.
It was the second time a Davis Cup tie was played without fans in Sweden. In 1975, two years after a military coup in Chile led by Augusto Pinochet, Sweden played Chile in an empty stadium.