Tennis / Israel's Slide Continues, and Estonia Reaps the Reward

Israel's women's tennis team was relegated yesterday after losing its World Group II playoff tie with Estonia, three games to two. Israel will have to compete next year in Europe-Africa region I, going back to where it was three years ago.

Israel had advanced to the top group as Shahar Peer surged to the top 20 in the world rankings, and like her it has fallen back down. With the sides tied 1-1, Peer - who is now ranked 53 in the world - was easily defeated by number 19 Kaia Kanepi, who controlled the match en route to a 6-3, 6-4 victory. Tzipi Obziler evened the competition with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 comeback, forcing the doubles match to decide which team would stay in Group II.

The team of Peer and Obziler rolled in the first set to a 6-1 victory, but the Estonians kept close in the second set and eventually broke the Israelis to win 6-4. In the final set, the Israelis were broken in the 13th game, allowing the Estonians to triumph 8-6.

"We lost the game by a point," said Lior Mor, Israel's captain, after the game. "We had a few opportunities in the third set, which we didn't take advantage of. We simply couldn't finish off the game, and we lost the decisive points. We were glad to make it to the deciding game. We prepared for the doubles, practicing especially for it midweek. We were the better pair on paper, but unfortunately it didn't work out. It's very painful."

Zibi Obziler said: "It was close, and it could have gone either way. In the end, we lost, what can you do? You move on, go back to the next round in February, and there's no point in talking about what will happen then. As far as I'm concerned, I'm continuing as normal on the team, and I don't plan to make any [retirement] decisions."

In other Fed Cup action, Ukraine - which defeated Israel earlie this year - defeated Argentina to be promoted into World Group I.