OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: A mouth-watering tie has arrived between the two top-ranked nations in the world that has a little bit of everything: the defending champions hosting the 2010 winners, a total of five Grand Slam champions and the home team on a vengeance mission after their 5-0 drubbing in their last meeting in Rome.
With Petr Pala’s team playing their first home tie in over two years, there’s no doubt the action will explode into life when Lucie Safarova takes on Francesca Schiavone in the opening singles rubber. They’ll be desperately hoping to impress as they demonstrate their talent in front of their compatriots for the first time since beating Russia to the 2011 title in Moscow.
The Czech captain is looking forward to home advantage saying “I really believe the crowd can help us with this tie because the fans here are fantastic. I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
His Italian counterpart Corrado Barazzutti is under no illusions as to how tricky it is going to be, acknowledging this is the “toughest” tie his side could have possibly faced.
Perhaps the biggest question marks surround the Italian No.1 Schiavone. Since fighting back from the brink of defeat in her second singles rubber against Ukraine in February, she has managed just one victory in six matches. Regarding her recent level tennis she admits, “it’s not great, but I’m going to keep on working hard and find a good feeling. It’s time to feel positive.”
Regarding her first rubber opponent, Ostrava holds its breath waiting to find out which Lucie Safarova will take to court this weekend. The ever up-and-down World No. 23 displayed some of her best scintillating tennis on reaching the final in Charleston last time out before only managing a single game against Serena Williams when she got there. She has a 4-3 winning record over Schiavone though and is 3-0 on hardcourts so on current form she could be considered the favourite.
The stand-out player for the Czechs, Petra Kvitova has been in imperious form in the Fed Cup winning eight rubbers in a row, but given her last defeat came in Italy, she’ll be more than wary of the threat posed by Sara Errani in her first singles match. Having played just three tour matches since the victory over Germany in February (because of injury and illness) she’s hoping the hard physical training she’s put in on the Turkish coast in the past month shan’t leave her initially rusty.
This tie is a little bit extra special for the World No. 3 since she only lives 30 minutes away from the CEZ Arena in the quiet town of Fulnek. She revealed “My father has bought around 100 tickets so I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and fans who come.” She also conceded the heavy defeat against Italy two years ago is an added motivation.
The happiest player at the draw had to be Sara Errani having been selected to play the singles and doubles at the expense of Flavia Pennetta. There’s no underestimating the diminutive Italian. She’s already won two singles titles already this year and broke through at the Australian Open making her first quarterfinal in a major in singles.
Of her surprisingly strong performances in 2012 she’s typically modest stating “you have periods playing good/bad. This year I’m playing good. It’s very important for me.” She wasn’t about to give away her secret to success.
Her glory hasn’t been restricted to the singles though. Her and Roberta Vinci have already picked up three doubles titles this season and will be looking forward to a re-match of the Australian Open semifinal when they edged out this weekend’s opponents in three sets. It shouldn’t be forgotten though that the Czech pair got their revenge when the four met at Indian Wells last month.
Should it come down to it, a Fed Cup debutante will be thrown into the cauldron in the form of Czech Republic’s Andrea Hlavackova. The 25-year old reigning Roland Garros doubles champion has been biding her time patiently to break into the set-up and now her chance has arrived she said she could barely contain her excitement saying “When I received the call that was yes, I couldn’t even sleep. I was very happy” adding “I can’t wait to cheer on the singles players tomorrow.”
Italy have won the last four ties against the Czechs, but it’s almost impossible to predict who will make the final come Sunday between the strongest two nations in the world. We’ll soon find out. Let battle commence.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Lucie Safarova (CZE) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
R2: Petra Kvitova (CZE) v Sara Errani (ITA)
R3: Petra Kvitova (CZE) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
R4: Lucie Safarova (CZE) v Sara Errani (ITA)
R5: Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (CZE) v Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci (ITA)
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Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 20/04/2012
Sara Errani (ITA) - 20/04/2012
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 20/04/2012
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 20/04/2012
Francesca Schiavone (ITA) - 20/04/2012