Sinai says: Obziler aims to push Israel to perform at its peak in Fed Cup

Pe’er is still in the fold, although she has looked like a shadow of her former self over recent years.

Israeli tennis star Julia Glushko in action (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli tennis star Julia Glushko in action
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was always only a matter of time until Tzipi Obziler became the captain of the Israel Fed Cup team.
After all, it was almost a given that she would one day coach the Israel national side after building much of her career around sustained success with the blue-and-white and retiring while sharing the competition’s all-time appearance record.
Six years after hanging up her racket, the 42-year-old will make her debut as captain on Wednesday when the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I ties get under way in Eilat. The event will be held in Israel’s southernmost city for the fourth time in six years, with the 14 nations on hand competing for two berths in the World Group II playoffs.
Israel has been part of Group I since 2010, but Obziler remembers the team’s glory days well, leading the blueand- white to a place among the top eight nations in the World Group in 2008 with Shahar Pe’er.
Pe’er is still in the fold, although she has looked like a shadow of her former self over recent years, with Julia Glushko emerging as the team’s current No. 1.
Israel was placed in Group C with Croatia, Estonia and Turkey. The group winner will play-off against the winner of Pool C for a place in the World Group II playoffs, while the bottom-placed nation will play-off to determine relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group II in 2017.
Israel faces Turkey on Wednesday, Estonia on Thursday and Croatia on Friday, with the playoffs to be held on Saturday.
Obziler, who replaced Amos Mansdorf as captain late last year, hopes to draw from her vast experience of 61 Fed Cup ties over 16 years (1994-2009) to help Israel punch above its weight once more.
“I had a break from the Fed Cup team for a few years, but 16 years with the national side is not something which can be easily canceled out,” Obziler told The Jerusalem Post earlier this week.
“My return to the team takes me back to my years as a player when I was always highly motivated and in top form for the national team. I will do the same in my job as captain.”
Glushko, ranked No. 126 in the world, Pe’er (189), 19-year-old Alona Pushkarevsky (986) and 16-year-old rookie Shelly Krolitzky (1211) were called up to the team by Obziler. She has known the first three since they were young teenagers and helped coach the latter since she was a child in the job she has held at the Israel Tennis Association since her retirement as part of the Athena project, the national council for promoting women’s sport in Israel.
“All the players are looking good and are very motivated to play for their country,” said Obziler. “I think they are all very proud to be part of the national team.
I’ve known them all for many years and we have many joint hours together which really helps our relationship.”
Obziler said that it was only after her retirement that the thought of becoming the team’s captain crossed her mind and that the timing was now right to make a return to the national team.
“I’ve recharged since my retirement and I’ve always had the experience and ability to be captain,” she explained.
While the team has yet to play a single match under Obziler’s guidance, her addition seems to have already had a positive effect on the squad.
“I think that Tzipi has helped me regain the desire to play for the team which I slightly lost over recent years,” Pe’er said last week.
“She is doing an amazing job and has helped me regain the hunger to represent Israel, which is something that I’ve been doing since I was 14.”
Obziler speaks highly of the future generation of women’s tennis in Israel, but it will once more be up to Glushko and Pe’er to carry the team.
“There are a lot of up-and-coming young players but as of now we have a veteran team,” said Obziler. “The young players look up to Shahar and Julia who help them learn and be part of the side.”
Israel could potentially have a far deeper squad in the near future, with 21-yearold Deniz Khazaniuk currently ranked at No. 305 in the world and newly crowned national champion, 17-year-old Olga Fridman, sitting at No. 251.
Despite already holding Israeli citizenship and living in the country in recent years, Fridman remains listed as a Ukrainian player, although she has said that she hopes that will soon change.
Khazaniuk has been a persona non grata on the Fed Cup team since harshly criticizing Pe’er and the squad in an interview four years ago. She branded Pe’er as “one big bluff” and claimed that the Fed Cup squad mistreated her and didn’t behave professionally during the Group I matches in Eilat in 2012.
Obziler refused to answer whether Khazaniuk could one day return to the squad and insisted her only focus is on working with the players currently on the team.
“Fridman is still young, but her parents have decided that she will not play for the Israel Fed Cup team at the moment,” said Obziler. “But as she said, we don’t know what might happen in a year or two.
“For the moment we need to focus on the players we have, who are working hard every day and are improving all the time.”
All of Israel’s players could learn a lot from Obziler, whose playing career was a triumph of perseverance and dedication.
She only made her breakthrough in her mid-30’s, entering the top-100 for the first time in her career in 2007 before reaching a career-best ranking of number 75.
That same year, Obziler also played a key role in helping Israel’s Fed Cup team to the World Group for the first time.
With new coach Sandra Wasserman, who reached 48th place in the WTA rankings and a former Belgium Fed Cup player on board, Israel will have an all-female coaching staff for the first time.
Returning to World Group II may be one step too far for Israel this year, but Obziler refuses to curtail her aspirations.
“Our first goal is to maintain our Group I status, but we will give our all and the sky is the limit,” she said. “We need to take it one day at a time and do our best.
Playing in front of our fans is something which will charge us with a lot of energy.
In the past we beat teams that were on paper a lot better than us, but our heart and soul won us some matches and took us to the World Group.
“Things fell into place and hopefully they do so again. We don’t know what will happen this week or any time in the future, but ultimately our goal is to return to the World Group.”