(photo credit: AP)
Israel's dreams of recording a Fed Cup shock against reigning champion Russia were dashed on Sunday after two sensational performances by Maria Sharapova and Anna Chakvetadze at Ramat Hasharon.
Shahar Pe'er and Tzipi Obziler gave all they had against the Russian stars, who are ranked No. 5 and No. 7 in the world, but were both outplayed by superior opponents.
A clinical display by newly-crowned Australian Open champion Sharapova limited Pe'er to a mere two games in the first match of the day, with the Russian winning 6-1 6-1 to give the visitors a 2-1 lead in the tie.
Obziler knew she had to defeat Chakvetadze in the final singles match of the tie to force a decisive doubles encounter, but despite winning the first three games of the match, she lost 6-4, 6-2.
The Russians completed a 4-1 victory in the tie with a 6-0, 1-6, 6-4 win by Dinara Safina and Elena Vesnina over Pe'er and Obziler in the dead doubles rubber, meaning Israel now faces an April playoff tie to try and maintain its status among the elite eight teams in the World Group.
"Unfortunately I didn't manage to claim the point we needed, but I gave all I had until the final point of the match," Pe'er said on Sunday. "She won the important points and that's why she's a top player. Sharapova played as well as I expected her to and kept it up throughout the match. I made mistakes, but I didn't play poorly. She pressured me throughout the encounter and didn't give me any breathing space."
Pe'er only held her serve once on Sunday and, after splitting the first two games with Sharapova, lost 10 straight games. The 20-year-old Israeli saved four match points in the sixth game of the second set, but her excitement was short lived, as the Russian wrapped up the victory with yet another break of serve in the subsequent game.
"My game matches up really well with Pe'er's," Sharapova said. "She's a defensive player and I'm more of an offensive player. I had a few nerves in the end of the match and I'm happy I managed to close it out. I felt that I played really good tennis and even though 95 percent of the crowd was against me, they respected me."
Sharapova's teammate Chakvetadze was far less pleased with the Israeli fans behavior and completely lost her cool midway through the second set. In the sixth game of the set Chakvetadze began taunting the crowd with exaggerated celebrations after each point she won and infuriated the already frustrated Israeli following.
"It's a pity the crowd acted in such a way," Chakvetadze said after the match. "I've never played against such a crowd before. We didn't expect the fans to scream in between points. I don't expect the home fans to support me, but just to be a little more respectful."
Obziler completely refuted the Russian's claims.
"Chakvetadze has obviously forgotten how her fans act when she plays at home," said the 34-year-old veteran, who had opened a 3-0 lead after breaking twice at the start of the match. "The fans backed me throughout the match and it was fantastic. I played good tennis, but she just had much more winners than me and I lost the momentum."
Israel's captain Oded Jacob only had warm words for the local fans.
"I've experienced many Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties and I've seen far worse crowds," he said. "This is an excellent home crowd and we should be proud of it."
Of the tie in general Jacob said: "We reached the World Group on merit. Nobody gave us a wild-card entry to the top eight. We had a very tough draw and we played the best team in the world. In sport you can always do more, but we did the maximum."
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