shahar peer tennis 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
After two years among the world's elite nations, Israel's Fed Cup team was relegated to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I on Sunday following a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Estonia in Tallinn.
Shahar Pe'er (53 in the world) lost 6-3, 6-4 in the first match of the day to Kaia Kanepi (19), but Tzipi Obziler (228) sent the tie into a decisive doubles match with a gutsy 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over Maret Ani (111).
The national team seemed to be on course to a victory after taking the first set of the doubles 6-1, but dropped the second set 6-4 and next year will play in the Europe/Africa Zone for the first time since 2006 after losing a nerve-racking third set 8-6.
"This is a massive disappointment," Obziler said. "We fought and we were close and that makes it even more disappointing. I've played many Fed Cup ties, but to lose like this is always painful. It's a nightmare."
"We didn't take advantage of some of our chances and we're disappointed and sad," captain Lior Mor said. "We felt we could do it, but unfortunately now we're in the Europe/Africa Zone."
Pe'er and Obziler were unstoppable at the start of the doubles match, breaking the Estonians time and again and taking the first set while dropping just one game.
The second set began with two consecutive breaks, but it was the hosts who claimed a crucial break in the fifth game and held their serve for the remainder of the set to tie up the match.
Kanepi and Ani began the third set with a break and seemed to be in the driver's seat after opening a 40-0 lead in the second game.
However, Pe'er and Obziler fought back and tied what would prove to be a very tense set.
Neither team managed to hold serve in the next two games, but in the fifth game the Israelis took a 3-2 lead, only to have the Estonians tie the score on their serve in the subsequent game.
In the ninth game, Pe'er and Obziler saved two crucial break points and in the next game came within two points of the win, but the Estonians held serve and tied the score at 5-5.
It was becoming obvious that the next break of serve would prove crucial and it was Kanepi and Ani who got it in the 13th game.
The following game was a rollercoaster, with the Israelis saving three match points before the Estonians clinched the victory after a Pe'er forehand went long.
In the first match of the day, Pe'er got off to an ideal start, breaking Kanepi in the opening game.
However, the Estonian would reel off the next four games, with Pe'er struggling to find answers to her opponent's serve.
Kanepi clinched the first set in the ninth game after the Israeli failed to return yet another of her serves and claimed the only break of the second set in the seventh game to open a 4-3 lead.
Pe'er just couldn't handle Kanepi's serve and the Estonian completed her win with a forehand winner.
Obziler knew she had to win to keep Israel in the tie and started her match against Ani very well, breaking to open a 2-0 lead.
Ani began to find her footing as the match progressed and took four games off the trot to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead.
The Estonian took the first set with a tremendous forehand winner and got the second set off to a good start as well, breaking Obziler to take a 3-2 lead.
In the subsequent three games, neither player managed to hold serve and the set had to eventually be decided on a tiebreak.
Down 4-3, Obziler hit a volley winner to tie the score and claimed the next two points as well to move within a single point of tying the match.
On the second set point, Obziler played a great point and sent the match to a decisive set with a winner at the net.
The turning point in the third set came in the fifth game after Obziler broke Ani's serve with a forehand winner.
The veteran never looked back after that and after Ani double faulted three times in the ninth game, Obziler completed the victory and forced a decisive doubles match, which ended in painful fashion for Israel.