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(photo credit: AP)
Israel's Federation Cup team can take a significant step towards a historic qualification to the World Group on Saturday when it plays the first two matches of its tie against Canada in Kamloops, British Colombia.
Shahar Pe'er, who is ranked 16th in the world, will play Stephanie Dubois in a meeting between Israel's number one player and the Canadians' number two, with Tzipi Obziler (92) facing the Canadians best, Aleksandra Wozniak, in Saturday's other match.
The World Group II first round tie will be concluded on Sunday with the reverse singles and Pe'er and Obziler's doubles match against the Canadian duo. The winner of this weekend's tie will play one of the eight losers from the World Group I first round for a place amongst the world's elite eight.
"We may be better than the Canadians on paper, however we must remember that Canada is a very good team which defeated a strong Argentinean side in the previous round," Israel coach Oded Jacob said ahead of this weekend's matches. "Our girls are in very good shape and are focused on the challenge ahead."
Anna Smashnova (89) and Julia Glushko (901) complete the Israeli squad, but are unlikely to take any part in the matches in Canada.
The Canadians, which booked a meeting with Israel after defeating Argentina 3-2 in the World Group playoff, are led by the world's 106th ranked player Wozniak, who boasts an 18-1 Fed Cup record, and 20-year-old Dubois (134), who is 10-2 in the competition.
Marie-Eve Pelletier (199) and Valerie Tetreault (263) are also part of the Canadians squad which is contesting World Group II for the first time since 1996.
"We are so happy to be in this position, we want to play against the best teams in the world and this week we have a chance to do that," Sylvain Bruneau, Canadian Fed Cup coach and national coach for women's tennis told the Canadian Tennis Association web site.
"They [Israel] are going to be very tough, we are going to have to compete as a team and focus on what we have control over," Bruneau added. "We certainly aren't going to be intimidated.
"From top to bottom, everyone has a role to play and the girls work well together.
"They carry with them a great sense of pride to be representing their country at such a prestigious event and they wear their heart on their sleeves."
Canada and Israel have met once in the past, with the Canadians winning 3-0 in the tie that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1972.
Israel advanced to World Group II after Indonesia, its opponent in the previous round, chose not to come to Israel for political reasons.
The team, which is playing in World Group II for the first time since the competition was restructured in 1995, has reached the round of 16 six times in the past, but has never advanced beyond this stage.
"We can't be complacent," Pe'er said. "There's a great atmosphere here and we're looking forward to the tie."
Ram and Erlich beaten in Monte-Carlo
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich lost 6-4, 3-6, 13-15, to Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet of France in the second round of the Monte-Carlo Masters Series tournament on Thursday evening.
The Israelis, who are ranked seventh in the doubles race, were tantalizingly close to the quarterfinals of the $2,200,000 tournament, squandering two match points in the match tiebreaker.
Ram and Erlich, who received a first round bye, raced to a 4-1 lead in the first set and held on to take the set despite a late surge by the Frenchmen. Benneteau and Gasquet held their serve throughout the second set and after they clinched it and tied the score, the match went to a decisive tiebreak.
After splitting the first 18 points of the breaker Benneteau and
Gasquet twice went into the lead, but Ram and Erlich saved both match points.
The Israelis also came twice within a single point of advancing in the subsequent points, but the Frenchmen saved the match points and advanced to the last eight.