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Despite having one of the strongest teams competing at the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I tournament, Israel will have its work cut out for it to advance to the semifinals of the tournament in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, starting Monday.
After a long day of protests, in which the team captains objected to an unexpected International Tennis Federation ruling that changed the ranking system for the tournament, Israel was drawn into a difficult Group 4, which also includes powers Belarus, Sweden, Estonia and Romania.
Israel will begin play on Monday morning against Sweden, with Anna Smashnova playing the first singles match against Johanna Larsson and Shahar Pe'er to follow against Sofia Arvidsson. The day will conclude with a doubles match.
Under the previous rules, players' WTA rankings would play a role in determining the teams' seedings for the tournament. However, that rule was changed this year, without notifying the local federations or Fed Cup team captains. The new way of conducting the seedings bases the order on team's past Fed Cup results.
For Israel, the change means that captain Dedi Ya'acov's team - consisting of Pe'er (ranked 35), Smashnova (39), Tzipi Obziler (131) and Yevgenia Savransky (257) - went from being one of the top seeds in the four groups to fifth overall and a second seed. The change also affected the order of other teams, with the Netherlands and Serbia-Montenegro, both expected to be top seeds, falling to the second and third seeding groups, respectively.
Only the group winners advance to the semifinal stage this weekend. The two finalists advance to play teams that lost in the opening round of World Group II for a chance to start the 2007 season in the World Group.
The draw was scheduled to take place on Sunday morning, but the captains all protested and demanded that the tournament officials take up the seeding matter with the ITF. But the ITF refused to change the ruling and the draw took place in the evening.
The easiest group on paper is 2, with Serbia-Montenegro, Slovenia, South Africa and Denmark, while Group 1 features Slovakia, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Finland and Group 3 Bulgaria, Ukraine, Hungary and Great Britain.