Israel has Dutch, Portuguese, British on tap

Pe’er & Co. play host in Eilat, under pressure to stay afloat in Europe/Africa Zone Group I.

Shahar Peer 390 (photo credit: Reuters and Israel Tennis Association)
Shahar Peer 390
(photo credit: Reuters and Israel Tennis Association)
Israel’s Fed Cup team will need Shahar Pe’er to be at her very best to have any chance of reaching the World Group II playoffs in Eilat over the next four days.
However, the blue-and-white’s No. 1 enters Wednesday’s Pool C opener against the Netherlands with fitness concerns after suffering an injury at the Australian Open.
Pe’er and the rest of the Fed Cup team have spent the past week preparing for the Europe/Africa Zone Group I ties, but Israel’s world No. 37 has had to take it lightly to avoid worsening a thigh strain she picked up in Melbourne.
“I’m recovering from a serious injury and it is difficult to tell if it will affect me in any way,” Pe’er said. “If I train too much or don’t treat myself it could get worse.”
Pe’er failed to progress past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament for the fourth straight time at the Aussie Open, being crushed 6-1, 6-2 in a mere 53 minutes by world No. 14 Sabine Lisicki in the second round.
However, she was pleased with her overall performance Down Under and is in an upbeat mood ahead the Fed Cup ties.
“I wasn’t disappointed with my play in Australia,” she said. “My last match didn’t end the way I had hoped, but I played seven matches overall during my time there and I think that I played well in five-and-a-half of them. Things are coming together and all in all it was a very positive trip.”
Israel needs to finish its pool in Eilat in first position to advance to a tie against another of the three pool winners for a place in April's World Group II playoffs.
The nations who finish bottom in each pool face a fight to avoid relegation.
Eleven teams will be competing in the three other groups in Eilat, including Poland and world No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska.
The national team won two of three pool encounters in Eilat last year, but still failed to advance to the next stage, meaning it must aim to win every tie, starting with Wednesday’s tough showdown against the Dutch.
Netherlands boasts two players in the top 100 in Michaella Krajicek (79) and Arantxa Rus (93), who will miss Wednesday’s tie, while also having two more players in the top 200 in Bibiane Schoofs (154) and Kiki Bertens (167).
Pe’er and Julia Glushko (211) will come up against Portugal’s Michelle Larcher De Brito (136) and Maria Joao Koehler (194) on Thursday before facing Judy Murray’s Great Britain side, which includes Elena Baltacha (57), Anne Keothavong (88), Heather Watson (106) and Laura Robson (118) on Friday.
Israel’s lack of depth could be crucial with Pe’er and Glushko to each play a singles match before ending every day with a doubles encounter.
Nevertheless, captain Lior Mor believes his team, which also includes Keren Shlomo (419) and Deniz Khazniuk (460), is capable of qualifying for the World Group II playoffs and regaining its place among the elite nations.
“We are playing in a tough group, with each of our opponents having top players and plenty of depth,” Mor said. “Every tie will be difficult, yet open, especially as we are hosting the matches in Eilat.
“We are doing our best so that Shahar and the rest of the players will enter the ties in optimal condition. It is important to be ready both physically and mentally. I can’t guarantee we will win, but I can promise we will be as ready as possible.”