BORAS, SWEDEN: Despite a spirited challenge from Great Britain’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas singles debutant Laura Robson, she could not prevent defeat by Sofia Arvidsson – a result that clinched victory for Sweden in the World Group II play-off in Boras.
After winning both rubbers on the opening day, Sweden only needed to win one of today’s three rubbers to clinch promotion – and it was all over after the first match in which Arvidsson beat Robson 64 16 63 to give the hosts an unassailable lead.
Johanna Larsson then beat Anne Keothavong 76(6) 36 64, before Elena Baltacha and Heather Watson prevented the whitewash, beating Ellen Allgurin and Hilda Melander in the doubles 76(3) 61 to make the final score 4-1.
But the main acclaim of the day was for 28-year-old Arvidsson, this year’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Euro/Africa Zone Group I Heart Award winner, who claimed the vital clinching point for her country. She said: “I feel great; it’s the best feeling. Winning was amazing so I am really happy. She [Robson] played a really great match and I had to play well to beat her.”
The first match of the final day was indeed a tremendous two hour and three minute display of experience against youthful exuberance. British captain Judy Murray had decided to replace her No. 1 Baltacha, who lost comfortably to Larsson the previous day, with 18-year-old Robson, the world No. 121 who had only played three doubles matches when making her debut for Britain in Israel in February.
It was a brave call by Murray to pit the teenager against Arvidsson, the experienced world No. 54, and some onlookers may have felt it was the wrong one in the early stages of the match when Robson struggled to control her shots and was broken in her first two service games. Things were not looking good for the Brit until she prevented the quick loss of the first set at 1-5 30-40 with three successive aces.
That seemed to spark some life into her, breaking her opponent in the following game, but Arvidsson held on and eventually took the first set on her fifth set point when Robson netted a backhand.
The second set was 27 minutes of pure brilliance from Robson. Building on the confidence she had gained towards the end of the first set, she broke Arvidsson in the fourth game thanks to some outstanding returning. Another break followed and when Robson comfortably served out the set, there was the sense for the first time this weekend that Britain had the momentum.
What followed in the deciding set was fascinating. Robson, at times, was hitting some outstanding winners, but Arvidsson was also scrapping well from the back of the court. It was the Swede got the crucial break for 4-2 and consolidated to move just one game away from victory.
Putting more pressure on Robson’s serve, Arvidsson had six match points in a lengthy penultimate game, Robson saving them all with a number of fearless winners, before holding to stay in the match. At 5-4 40-0, two more match points went by before Arvidsson hit a forehand winner to clinch the tie.
Swedish captain Maria Standlund-Tomsvik admitted that she felt some nerves sitting in the chair towards the end but was delighted with how her No 1 battled against a tough opponent. She said: “Sofia was so strong because I think Laura played an unbelievable match; she did really well.
“She played so fast so it was kind of hard for Sofia to build up her own game, she was on the defensive a lot, but she is so much stronger now physically so her defence has really improved and that is what saved her and us today.”
After defeat, Robson immediately sat in her courtside chair and cried into her towel while being consoled by her captain and teammates. It was an emotional end to a match in which she had given absolutely everything, hitting 47 winners to Arvidsson’s 23, but ultimately fell just short.
Robson said: “I am pretty upset but my teammates are proud of me. Maybe in a few days I'll think it was a pretty good effort but right now I'm devastated. In Fed Cup you’re not just playing for yourself, you're playing for your country, and all the emotion that built up on court just came through.”
Although Murray was obviously disappointed – Britain now return to Euro/Africa Zone Group I next year - she felt there were plenty of positives to take from the final day, particularly Robson’s performance.
Murray said: “There is a lot to be proud of today. It was a wonderful debut from Laura. For her to come out and take her on the way she did and really hit through the court, serving big and competing so well, that was a great plus for me even though we lost the match.”
Judy Murray (GBR) - 22/04/2012
Captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik (SWE) - 22/04/2012
Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) - 22/04/2012