Israel, Ukraine set to make on-court racket

New captain Lior Mor leads team into Kharkov with '08 redemption on everyone's mind.

Shahar Peer 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Shahar Peer 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel's Fed Cup team visits Ukraine in the first round of the World Group II this weekend, hoping to return to winning ways following a rough 2008. After winning 11 consecutive Fed Cup ties and climbing all the way from the Europe/Africa Zone to claim a position among the world's top eight nations in the World Group, Israel's national team was brought down to earth with two consecutive defeats last year. Israel's first World Group appearance ended in relegation after a 4-1 home defeat to reigning champion Russia in early February. That performance was followed by a 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic at Ramat Hasharon in late April. Another defeat this weekend will mean the team will have to fight for its place among the world's top 16 nations in a World Group II playoff tie, but despite the tough opponent, new captain Lior Mor is confident a victory is within his side's capabilities. "We're not allowing negative thoughts to enter our mind," Mor said about the fact that the team is in danger of losing its status among the world's top nations. "We're expecting a difficult tie against a strong team in an indoor arena in freezing conditions, but this team has already proven in the past that it can beat any side because its whole is bigger than the sum of its parts." In the first day of play in Kharkov on Saturday, Shahar Pe'er (48 in the world) will face Ukraine's number two, probably Kateryna Bondarenko (50), and Tzipi Obziler (166) comes up against Kateryna's sister, Alona Bondarenko (31). The reverse singles will be played on Sunday, with a doubles match ending the encounter. "It's been a while since we last played on the road, but we're not deterred as we've proven in the past that we can win away from home," said Pe'er, who believes she's playing much better this year and that the results will soon follow despite losing in the first round of the singles, doubles and mixed doubles tournaments at the Australian Open. Considering the fact that the Ukrainians have an obvious advantage in the singles matches and that Bondarenko sisters teamed up to win the Australian Open doubles title last year its quite clear that the hosts are the favorites in this weekend's tie. However, Ukraine captain Volodymyr Bogdanov is anything but complacent. "Israel is a very strong side, which has already beaten teams better than us," said Bogdanov, who also might use his number three player, Mariya Koryttseva (84), during the weekend. "Pe'er and Obziler play better than their rankings indicate and I'm concerned with the fact that they raise their play in Fed Cup action. We are only slight favorites because we're playing at home. I wouldn't be surprised if the tie came down to the doubles match." The 35-year-old Obziler will be playing in her 60th Fed Cup tie, just one shy of the world record held by Israel's Anna Smashnova. "To be honest I'm as excited to play as I was when I made my debut," she said. "Every Fed Cup tie is very special and for 15 years now I've always prepared myself the best way possible to play for Israel."