Shahar Peer at Australian Open.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Mark Baker)
After suffering four consecutive defeats over the past two years and dropping from the World Group to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I, Israel’s Fed Cup team will begin its rebuilding process in Portugal on Wednesday.
Shahar Pe’er and Tzipi Obziler had led the team to 10 straight victories between April 2005 and July 2007, booking its place among the world’s top eight sides.
However, the 4-1 home defeat to Russia in February 2008 was followed by three more 3-2 setbacks to the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Estonia, in order, resulting in the team’s demotion to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I.
Israel, which is still searching for a successor for the retired Obziler, was drawn to face Slovenia, the Netherlands and Bulgaria in Group A on Tuesday, with the winner of the group advancing to a playoff against one of the three other first-place finishers. Another victory will see the team progress to the World Group II play-offs, being held on April 24-25.
A fourth place finish in the group will result in a play-off against relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group II.
Each tie will be composed of three matches. One between the teams’ number 1 players, another between the sides’ No. 2’s and finally a doubles match.
Israel begins its campaign in Estoril against Slovenia on Wednesday and will face Bulgaria on Thursday, before playing the Netherlands on Friday. The playoffs will be held on Saturday.
“We were handed a reasonable draw,” Pe’er said. “It could have been tougher, but could have also been easier. The most important thing is that we take it one tie at a time and that every player gives her best.”
Pe’er, No. 22 in the world, will play in all three ties, but captain Lior Mor has yet to decide who will be the team’s No. 2. Julia Glushko (314), Keren Shlomo (390) and Chen Astrogo (493) are fighting to fill Obziler’s big shoes.
“The draw is okay, but it could have been better,” Mor said. “All in all each tie is open and any team can win. We’ve made superb preparations. Shahar is looking great and the rest of the girls are desperate to play.
“This is a new and young team and hopefully it will achieve success. The first tie is the toughest and if we get off to a good start it will bode will for the rest of the week,”
Slovenia is led by Polona Hercog (69) and Masa Zec-Peskiric (113), with Andreja Klepac (327) and Katarina Srebotnik (427) also on the team.
Bulgaria’s highest ranked player is Tsvetana Pironkova (112) and she is
joined on the team by Dia Evtimova (263), Elitsa Kostova (350) and
Biljana Pawlowa-Dimitrova (857).
The Netherlands is probably the weakest team in the group, with Arantxa
Rus (117), Richel Hogenkamp (369), Chayenne Ewijk (397) and Nicole
Thyssen (624) to face the Israelis on Friday.
“The preparations went well and we were given a pretty good draw,” said
Shlomo, who is hoping to play against Slovenia on Wednesday. “I think
that if we play well we can beat any team.”
Also Tuesday, Harel Levy (118) and Noam Okun (247) were both knocked
out in the first round of the ATP Tour’s $500,000 SA Tennis Open in
Johannesburg. Levy lost 7-6 (2), 6-2 to Josselin Ouanna and Okun fell
7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) to Izak Van Der Merwe.