Tennis: Pe'er downs Safina to reach final 16

Israeli beats ninth-seeded Russian 7-5, 6-7, 8-6 in epic battle which lasts nearly 3.5 hours.

shahar peer 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
shahar peer 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
When Israel lost to Russia in the Fed Cup World Group back in February, Elena Dementieva was not part of the Russian team while Dinara Safina was its weakest link. Safina has improved greatly over the last five months, having reached the French Open final at Roland Garros three weeks ago. But on Saturday Israel's number one female Shahar Pe'er defeated her again in a repeat of the opening match of that Fed Cup tie to set up a daunting encounter against No. 5 seed Dementieva in the fourth round of Wimbledon. Pe'er's 7-5, 6-7 (7-4), 8-6 win over the number nine seeded Safina propelled her into the final 16 at SW19 for the first time in her career, and signified a true return to form for the 21-year-old who appeared to have fallen by the wayside earlier this season. Dementieva beat Gisela Dulko 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 on Saturday and will prove a tough proposition for the Israeli. The mammoth match against Safina, which lasted just under three and a half hours, was a battle of wills in front of a packed crowd on Court 11. Both players slugged it out in long baseline rallies, testing each others' patience throughout the encounter. In the end, it was Safina's serving that let her down. Despite having a far more powerful serve than her opponent, the Russian kept only 58 percent of her first serves in, compared to Pe'er's 74%. And it was on her 12th double fault of the match that Safina finally lost. Both ladies wore their hearts on their sleeve, showing their emotions after winning important points. Pe'er stormed to a 4-1 lead in the second set and appeared to be wrapping up the match. But Safina managed to pull it back to 4-4. When Safina saved Pe'er's first match point with the Israeli leading 5-4 she let out a little scream of excitement. Once the set went to a tiebreak Pe'er's concentration fell away and Safina was back in the match. The third set was going the Russian's way after she broke to love in the third game to go 2-1 up. But Pe'er broke back in the 10th game to tie the set at 5-5, won three games in a row and then finally took the marathon match. Meanwhile, on Friday, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich made it into the third round of the men's doubles, beating the British/Australian pairing of Stephen Huss and Ross Hutchins 6-7(3-7), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match carried over from Thursday. Ram and Erlich, who are seeded third and looking to win the second grand slam title of their careers together after capturing the Australian Open in January, will play French duo Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut in the last 16. Ram is also in action in the mixed doubles with partner Nathalie Dechy. The Israeli/French duo had little difficulty defeating Brits Jamie Delgado and Katie O'Brienin the second round. Ram is something of a mixed doubles expert, having won the event at Wimbledon with Vera Zvonerava in 2006 and at the French Open with Dechy last year.