BERN, SWITZERLAND: Despite playing away from home this weekend, visitors and former champions Belgium will go into their 2013 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie against Switzerland as firm favourites after the draw took place in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Thursday.
Swiss captain Heinz Guenthardt will be hoping home advantage and the choice of an indoor clay court will swing the two-day tie in the hosts’ favour, but rankings and recent form suggest it will be Belgian captain Anne Devries who will be toasting her team’s success come Sunday night.
Belgium’s top two players - Yanina Wickmayer and Kirsten Flipkens - are fit and healthy and come into the tie brimming with confidence after a bright start to the season. Wickmayer reached a final in Auckland in January and the third round at the Australian Open and currently occupies 22nd place in the WTA singles rankings.
Belgian No.2 Flipkens is enjoying an even richer vein of form. She made the quarter-finals in Auckland, the last four in Hobart, reached the last 16 at the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne and peaked at a new career-high singles world ranking of No.32 towards the end of January.
Both will take healthy rankings advantages into their opening singles contests on day one. Wickmayer is ranked 67 places higher than the opponent she will face in the weekend’s opening singles, Swiss No.2 and world No.89 Stefanie Voegele, while Flipkens is currently 33 places higher than her opponent on Saturday, Swiss No.1 and world No.67 Romina Oprandi.
Despite the strength and form of her singles stars, however, Devries said she won’t be taking anything for granted once play begins.
“Yanina and Kirsten have definitely started well in the beginning of the season,” said Devries. “They should be confident. But still, it will be a difficult tie, Switzerland are playing at home, they have two good players as well in the top 100 so we definitely won’t underestimate them.”
Devries’ opposite number, Guenthardt, was sending out much the same message. In only his second tie as captain of the national side, the former Wimbledon doubles champion said he was hoping home advantage, the court surface and the unpredictability of team tennis would work in his side’s favour.
“A tie like this is played over two days and only two or three points might decide the outcome,” he said. “On paper, every match we go out there, they’re the favourites, but I don’t think this is a tie where you have a phenomenal player like a Federer for the Swiss team, or a Nadal in Spain, where you can pretty much book a point.
“I think all five matches will be quite open and can go either way and I hope that playing at home gives us a little bit of an edge.”
One player who can bank on some strong local support will be Oprandi. Having represented Italy on tour until early 2012, the Swiss No.1 will be making her debut in the competition this weekend - in her hometown - and says she’s taking the experience in her stride.
“I feel good,” she said. “Of course, it’s nice to be at home and to play my first tie for Switzerland here makes it even more special. The attention is normal because I’m from Bern, so it’s fine like this. It’s not disturbing in any way.”
The winners of the tie will compete in the World Group Play-offs in April, while the losers will go into a World Group II relegation contest with one of the nations that qualifies from the Zone Group I competition, which is also taking place this week.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Stefanie Voegele (SUI) v Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)
R2: Romina Oprandi (SUI) v Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
R3: Romina Oprandi (SUI) v Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)
R4: Stefanie Voegele (SUI) v Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
R5: Timea Bacsinszky/Amra Sadikovic (SUI) v Ysaline Bonaventure/ Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Belgium captain Ann Devries - 8/02/2013
Switzerland captain Heinz Guendhardt - 8/02/2013
Romina Oprandi (SUI) - 8/02/2013
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) - 8/02/2013
Stefanie Voegele (SUI) - 8/02/2013