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Anna Smashnova and Tzipi Obziler continued their assault on the history books, but it was Shahar Pe'er who led Israel to a pair of crucial victories as the blue-andwhite squad remained undefeated after three days at the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I tournament in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
On Tuesday against Romania and again on Wednesday against Estonia, Smashnova started the day with an unexpected defeat to a lower-ranked opponent, but Pe'er made sure to even things with a singles win and then teamed with Obziler to win the ties, putting Israel in the driver's seat to clinch first place in Group 4 and a spot in the semifinals.
Only the four 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.
Captain Dedi Ya'acov's side has a much-needed rest day on Thursday before facing Belarus for its last groupstage tie. It is possible that Israel could already clinch a berth in the semis on Thursday, but it would need winless Sweden to stun Belarus for that to happen.
Against Romania, Smashnova (ranked 39th in the world), lost 6-1, 6-2 to teenager Madalina-Victorita Gojnea (297), who was making her Fed Cup debut, before Pe'er (35) evened the score with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Monica Niculescu (278). Israel clinched the tie when Pe'er and Obziler outlasted Gojnea and Niculescu 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the deciding doubles rubber.
On Wednesday, Smashnova lost the opener 6-2, 6-4 to Kaia Kanepi (93), Pe'er helped Israel bounce back with a 6-0, 6-1 win against Maret Ani (67) and then Pe'er and Obziler finished the job with a come-frombehind 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win against Kanepi and Ani.
Smashnova's three appearances give her 60 career Fed Cup ties, first place all-time in the competition. The record was previously held by Spain's Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.
The 29-year-old is also ranked sixth all-time in singles wins (38-21), one behind Paraguay's Larissa Schaerer for fifth and two behind American legend Chris Evert-Lloyd for fourth. Sanchez-Vicario (50-22) is the all-time leader.
Obziler, who has climbed into a tie with now-retired Conchita Martinez of Spain with 53 ties under her belt, improved to 26-18 in doubles play, ranking her sixth, alongside Americans Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals. Obziler needs three more doubles victories to catch Australian Wendy Turnbull and Nany "Yayuk" Basuki of Indonesia, who are next on the list, tied for fourth.
It is somewhat ironic that Obziler would surpass King in the rankings, since the American captain is among those responsible for Obziler returning to the WTA Tour after a brief retirement in 2002. Obziler, who during her time away remained in shape and continued to represent Israel in the Fed Cup, stretched American Lindsay Davenport to a third-set tiebreaker before losing in a World Group qualifying tie in Springfield, Missouri. Afterward, King told Obziler that she should still be competing with the best, words that helped her decide to return to full-time tennis.