Tennis: Shahar keeps Israel's hopes alive

Israel's number one defeats Dinara Safina at Ramat Hasharon while Tzipi Obizler loses to Maria Sharapova.

peer shouts 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
peer shouts 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A stunning comeback by Shahar Pe'er in the first match of Israel's Fed Cup tie against Russia at Ramat Hasharon on Saturday gave the home team a crucial point and ensured it still has all to play for going into Sunday's reverse singles. Despite Tzipi Obziler's 6-0, 6-4 loss to Maria Sharapova later in the day, Pe'er's 0-6, 6-2, 6-2 defeat of world number 16 Dinara Safina left the World Group first round tie hanging in the balance at one point each. Israel captain Oded Jacob looked a little drained following a day of scintillating tennis which kept the crowd on its feet, but he was clearly delighted with his players. "Our mission is to give everything we have in this tie, for the girls to put their hearts and souls out there on the courts. They did that today and I am sure they will tomorrow," Jacob said. "Although it would be better to be 2-0 up we are happy with the situation we are in after today's matches. With the momentum created by Shahar anything can happen on the court tomorrow." On Sunday, Pe'er will open proceedings at 11 a.m. against Australian Open winner Sharapova before Obziler plays in the second match of the tie against either Safina or Anna Chakvetadze. Safina was clearly disappointed with her capitulation against Pe'er, telling reporters at a post match press conference that she needs to work on her game with her trainer. This may open the door for Chakvetadze to replace Safina in the fourth singles match. If the scores are still level after four matches tie will be decided by a doubles match. Israel was given much encouragement by Obziler's second set performance where the 34-year-old Fed Cup veteran won three games in a row and came close to taking it to a tie break. Pe'er (17) got off to an appalling start against Safina in the bright sunshine with nerves clearly affecting her play. Numerous unforced errors and a low first serve percentage, combined with Safina's stunning shotmaking, saw the Russian race to a first set lead in just 25 minutes, finishing with a deft backhand slice volley. After all the pre-tie hype, the ease with which Safina managed to sweep past Israel's number one 6-0 in that opening set temporarily quietened the capacity crowd of 6,000. "I played very badly throughout the first set and she played very well," Pe'er said, admitting that she felt nervous opening the first Fed Cup tie to be held in Israel for 12 years. The second set began just as badly with Pe'er making her fourth double fault of the match and again being broken by Safina. But then the Israeli started to turn it around, carrying the crowd with her. In the second game of the second set Pe'er broke back and it was clear self belief had set in. "I don't think there was a specific shot which made the difference. Slowly slowly the excitement went down and I knew I had to get back into the match. Every point I won I felt the crowd with me and I think it effected her [Safina]," Pe'er said. While her Russian opponent took a 2-1 lead in the next game breaking again, Pe'er then came back from deuce to win the next and make it 2-2. Finally, in the fifth game of the second set, Pe'er won her first service game of the match, coming out on top in a long rally and letting out a cry of "C'mon" which delighted the supporters. From then on it was all Pe'er. The 20-year-old won the next three games to tie the match at one set all after an hour and 13 minutes. Just when things seemed to be going well for Israel, the third set began in a similarly nail-biting fashion with Safina going 2-0 up. But that was as far as the Russian could go and Pe'er stormed forward to win six straight games and threw her racket down in joy as she won the match in just under two hours. Sharapova's matchup with Obziler also began with a 6-0 first set to the Russian team. The powerful blonde bombshell hit every shot with the ferocity and accuracy she is now famous for, and looked like she would have no problems defeating Obziler. This continued into the second set until Sharapova was 5-1 up and Obziler was serving to stay in the match. However something happened to the Israeli and she showed true character to claw her way back in, winning the seventh, eighth and ninth games, before Sharapova proved her worth and finished up. Explaining why she felt Obziler was able to get back into the match, Sharapova said she "got really anxious and excited as I was close to finishing my first Fed Cup match." The 20-year-old Russian, who shares her birthday with Obziler, had been taunted by the crowd, with many of the supporters mimicking the grunts she made on each shot. But Sharapova said she had no problem with the imitation and it even helped her. "I don't mind it [the imitation]. It brings out the best in me," she said after the match. "I love the atmosphere, the crowd and their craziness. It is what we live for." "This is not a regular tournament. It is a one of a kind experience as you are not playing just for yourself but also for your country and your teammates," Sharapova added.