Harel Levy in action
Photo: Reuters
Israel rallies to beat Sweden 3-2 in Davis Cup
Harel Levy beats Andreas Vinciguerra to decide World Group first-round series in near-empty Malmo arena. Israeli fan: I think it's a great day for tennis; finally, sports won over politics

Israel advanced to the Davis Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1987 after rallying to beat seven-time champion Sweden 3-2 Sunday in a close series overshadowed by political protests.


Harel Levy beat Andreas Vinciguerra 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6 to decide the World Group first-round series in a near-empty arena in Malmo.


Dudi Sela had leveled the series earlier Sunday by wearing out Thomas Johansson 3-6, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.


Vinciguerra saved two match points but botched a forehand to lose his serve and a chance to play Russia in the quarterfinals.


The jubilant Israeli team hoisted Levy in the air as a few dozen special guests celebrated in the stands.


Only about 300 special invitees were allowed to watch the match because city officials said they couldn't guarantee security at the venue. Critics, including the Israeli team, said Malmo was caving in to threats of violence from anti-Israel groups.


On Saturday, scores of rock-throwing protesters bent on stopping the match clashed with police in an attempt to storm the arena. Police apprehended nearly 100 people and arrested 10 of them on preliminary charges of rioting and assault. No injuries were reported.


Levy suggested the decision to close the match to the public backfired on the Swedes because it deprived them of the raucous backing that home teams normally enjoy.


"Maybe they lost this tie from the lack of support from the spectators," he said. "After all it affected them more than it affected us. Hopefully it won't happen again."


'A great day for tennis'

In the first match, Sela got so upset when he lost the third set he cracked his racket against the indoor carpet. The burst of anger appeared to have energized the Israeli, who broke Johansson's serve in the first game of the fourth.


Meanwhile, Johansson, playing his second match since October following heel surgery, was showing signs of fatigue. He struggled with unforced errors and lost the set when his backhand return went wide.


"I knew I had to play long points and keep him on the court as long as possible. I think it paid off," Sela said.


Johansson admitted he lost steam in the fourth set.


"When your body stops there is not much you can do," the 2002 Australian Open champion said. "It's just agony to stay out there. You know that if he doesn't break his leg there is no chance."


Johansson could not longer put up a fight in the final set, allowing Sela to break his serve twice and go 4-0. Sela lost four match points before the Swede missed a return to give Israel the victory.


Simon Aspelin and Robert Lindstedt put Sweden ahead in the doubles Saturday by defeating Andy Ram and Amir Hadad in four sets.


In the opening singles, Johansson beat Levy in five sets before Sela leveled the series with a five-set victory over Vinciguerra.


Israel has only reached the quarterfinals once before, in 1987, when it lost to India.


"I think it's a great day for tennis," said Alex Woolf, a 26-year-old Israel fan from London. "Five fantastic matches. Finally, sports won over politics." 


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