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Old 09-21-2004, 06:03 AM   #59
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Default Re: Jarkko Nieminen and other Finnish players

Just moments before Monday's press conference ahead of Israel's upcoming Davis Cup tie against Finland, the heads of the Israel Tennis Association decided it is so crucial to fill the stadium for this weekend s three-day contest that they elected to waive the entrance fee. Anyone and everyone will be admitted free to the competition at the Ramat Hasharon Tennis Center.

"Our home court advantage is only useful if fans are on hand," stressed ITA chairman Dr. Ian Froman. "If only a few hundred fans turn up, it'll be depressing for our players."

Israel and Finland are vying to remain in Euro-Africa Group 1. Israel was swept 5-0 by Germany in the previous round while Finland went down 4-1 to Luxembourg.

Noam Okun (who is ranked No. 142 in the world), Harel Levy (147), Andy Ram (341), and Yoni Erlich (690) are representing Israel. Jarkko Nieminen (69), Tuomas Ketola (217), Juho Paukko (536), and Lassi Ketola (653) arrived for Finland.

It is not unprecedented for the ITA to waive ticket fees for a crucial tie. In 1993, the Israeli team consisting of Amos Mansdorf and Gilad Bloom outlasted Switzerland's Jakob Hlasek and Marc Rosset 3-2 before thousands of fans admitted for free to a World Group qualifying tie, which was also wrapped around Yom Kippur.

Israel is not taking the Finns lightly. New captain Oded Jacob was very complimentary about the two opposing players he expects to play all five games, saying that only injury kept 23-year-old lefty Nieminen out of the world s top 30 this year and calling the 29-year-old Ketola "a wily and experienced tennis fox."

"Our goal is to survive in Group 1," he said, adding that "any result is possible. The players on both sides can win any and every match."

Jacob, who replaced Mansdorf as captain, said that he is pleased with the strides Ram has made as a singles player, which gives Israel another option for singles play. However, he admitted that he is leaning towards Levy, whom he called "an unreal Davis Cup player" who is "healthy and in good shape lately, even if not in top form." Levy has a career 17-9 record in Davis Cup action.

Okun, who had a strong summer with a win at the Binghamton (New York) ATP Challenger and a quarterfinal appearance at the Indianapolis Masters, is a virtual lock as the lead singles player.

As for the unusual scheduling and early start time, Erlich joked that he "hopes Andy [Ram] will wake up in time," but doesn't think the 10 a.m. start will have "any real effect on the match."

According to Jacob, if as expected Nieminen and Tuomas Ketola play both singles and doubles, the day off for Yom Kippur could help Finland's players, but the early start on Friday may harm them after playing Thursday evening.

The draw for Thursday's two singles matches will take place on Wednesday afternoon, with all the players from both teams on hand.
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