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Israel level with Sweden, Argentina lead

DUDI Sela put Israel level with seven-times champions Sweden on the first day of a Davis Cup world group tie played behind closed doors because of security concerns.

Last year's runners-up Argentina shrugged off the absence of their three top players to go 2-0 up against the Netherlands, while former champions Russia and Croatia also enjoyed two wins in Friday's opening singles, over Romania and Chile respectively.

Champions Spain, however, were forced to wait to begin their defence against Serbia because high winds in Benidorm made the scaffolding supporting their purpose-built stadium unsafe.

Officials said the tie should begin early today, after a safety inspection.

In the Swedish harbour city of Malmo, yesterday's singles went ahead in front of fewer than 400 people -- journalists, sponsors and guests -- after local officials decided to close the 4,000-seat Baltic Hall to the public.

"It's sad. It's the wrong decision but it was nice to get a few supporters inside the arena," Sela told journalists.

Fears of unrest over Israel's presence in the competition, in a city with a large Muslim community, came to little when the day's only incident was a small protest that blocked a road for 20 minutes, police said. However, up to 12,000 people were expected to demonstrate on Saturday, when the two sides reconvene at 1-1 for the doubles.

Sela beat Andreas Vinciguerra, who has been plagued by injury problems in recent years, 4-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 11-9.

Former Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, back after surgery on his heel in November, had put the Swedes ahead with a hard-fought 6-7 6-4 7-5 4-6 8-6 win over Harel Levy.

"I am totally exhausted. I emptied myself today," said Johansson who appeared at his post-match news conference with a huge ice pack on his foot.


In Buenos Aires, the crowd was also sparse in the absence of world number 14 David Nalbandian, who has a viral infection, and numbers seven and 45 Juan Martin del Potro and Jose Acasuso, both left out by mutual consent.

The few fans were rewarded with a opening match lasting nearly four hours in which Juan Ignacio Chela beat Jesse Huta Galung 6-2 2-6 6-2 6-7 6-2.

Juan Monaco, making his first appearance since the 2006 final against Russia, then defeated Thiemo De Bakker 6-1 6-2 7-6.

Mario Ancic and Marin Cilic both enjoyed convincing wins for 2005 champions Croatia in Porec.

Ancic was pleased with himself for staying calm as opponent Nicolas Massu repeatedly complained about line calls before losing in straight sets. Cilic then completed a perfect opening day for the home side with a 6-1 6-2 6-1 demolition of Paul Capdeville.

Despite a comfortable win over Victor Crivoi in Russia's opening rubber in Sibiu, Marat Safin was not entirely happy, saying the fast indoor surface had given him problems.

Mikhail Youzhny overcame Romanian number one Victor Hanescu 6-4 6-2 6-4 in the second singles to give the 2002 and 2006 champions a 2-0 lead.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga put France level with Czech Republic in Ostrava, beating Radek Stepanek 7-5 6-2 7-6 after the home side had taking an unexpected lead when Tomas Berdych beat Davis Cup debutant and world number eight Gilles Simon.

Germany and Austria were also locked at 1-1 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen after the home team's Rainer Schuettler lost to Stefan Koubek and Philipp Kohlschreiber came back from two sets down to beat Juergen Melzer.

Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland's top player in the absence of Roger Federer who has a back injury, served strongly to put his side 1-0 up against the United States in Birmingham, Alabama, with a 3-6 6-4 6-3 7-6 win over James Blake.

World number six Andy Roddick evened the score for the former champions by defeating Marco Chiudinelli, ranked 341st, 6-1 6-3 7-6 in the second singles.


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