EILAT, ISRAEL: Great Britain's women gave new captain Judy Murray a perfect start to her career as skipper by registering a 3-0 win over Portugal at the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I tournament that started in Eilat on Wednesday.
Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha each won their singles rubbers and Heather Watson and rookie Laura Robson then teamed up for the doubles to put the Brits at the top of Pool C and keep them in with a good chance of reaching the qualifying play-off.
Keothavong beat Maria Joao Koehler 63 64, Baltacha got past Michelle Larcher de Brito 62 63 and Watson and Robson fought out a close first set before easing to a 75 60 victory over the same two Portuguese players.
The other tie in the four-team round robin pool ended in a 2-1 win for Israel over Netherlands in a thrilling encounter on a biting cold night that nevertheless ended on a happy note for the home team and the local spectators who stayed on to cheer past midnight.
Julia Glushko, with a ranking of No. 211, and who last year earned some unexpected wins for Israel, was unable to rise to the occasion on Wednesday in the blustery conditions and went down 63 75 to Bibiane Schoofs, ranked No. 154, in an error-strewn encounter on her part.
Israel's mainstay, Shahar Peer (No. 37), also looked as if she would end up on the losing side when she faced a match point against Michaella Krajicek (No. 79), but she managed to come back from the brink and win 57 76(5) 61, relying more on grit and determination than good stroke play, to set up the deciding doubles.
Here too, the same Israeli players looked out of sorts by committing far too many errors, but with the support of the crowd and their own determination, coupled with a few errors by the Dutch pairing at crucial junctures in the match, they sealed it 76(4) 26 63 on their seventh match point.
"I'm very happy, because the way we won this tie is very encouraging and it gives a lot of reason to believe in these girls," said Israeli captain Lior Mor.
On Thursday, Israel take on Portugal and will need to emulate the British 3-0 result to enhance their qualification chances. The Dutch team, who played without captain Manon Bollegraf courtside because she was unwell, will need to lift their spirits in what will likely be another very close encounter for them, against the British team.
Poland and Bulgaria each had easy wins respectively over Luxembourg and Estonia in the ties that started off the event on a sunny morning at the Red Sea resort, but Romania needed a tight doubles win to settle their tie against Croatia.
Polish world No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska ensured victory over Luxembourg with a 62 62 win over veteran Anne Kramer after her younger sister, Urszula, had an even easier time against Claudine Schaul as she lost just one game in each set.
The doubles also ended in a 61 61 scoreline with Magda Linette and Alicja Rosolska overcoming Laura Correia and Tiffany Cornelius.
Bulgaria's Elitsa Kostova and world No. 50 Tsvetana Pironkova took advantage of the absence of Estonian world No. 25 Kaia Kanepi to register easy wins respectively over Margit Ruutel and Anett Kontaveit, and Pironkova then teamed up with Dia Evtimova to beat Eva Paalma and Tatjana Vorobjova for the loss of one game.
Playing in a three-team group, Bulgaria's win is a vital stepping stone to helping them reach Saturday's qualification round which would be ensured if they win their next tie against Austria.
Pironkova, who was a member of the team that missed out on qualification in a tight group last year, said she thought her team had a better chance this time around.
"I really hope that we can do better than last year. We have a good start but our next round is against Austria, a very tough team, but we will be mobilised," the Bulgarian said.
In Pool B, Sweden and Hungary, who appear to be the two stronger teams, each registered 3-0 victories respectively over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece.
Sweden's Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson, who played singles and doubles, conceded nine games in their three rubbers against their Bosnian opponents, and Hungarians Timea Babos and Reka-Luca Jani also won in straight sets before Babos and Katalin Marosi followed suit in the doubles.
Click the link below to view live scores from Eilat.
- Live scores
Click the link below for more information about Europe/Africa Zone Group I, including individual results from each tie.
- Europe/Africa Zone Group I
Captain Lior Mor (ISR) - 01/02/2012
Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) - 01/02/2012
Captain Judy Murray (GBR) - 01/02/2012