DELRAY BEACH, FL, USA: Sloane Stephens will make her Fed Cup singles debut by starting out the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie against Sweden at the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Saturday afternoon.
The 16th-ranked Stephens will face a familiar foe in 54th-ranked Sofia Arvidsson in the first match. The two have played twice before and are tied at 1-1. However, Stephens edged past Arvidsson in their Brisbane, Australia meeting earlier this season.
Stephens knows that the lead off match is an important position. But she also is aware that world No. 1 Serena Williams will be backing her up in the second match in an encounter against 66th-ranked Johanna Larsson.
“It’ll be my first singles match, so it’ll be a little - I’ll be a little nervous,” Stephens said. “But I have a great team behind me and I know they’ll be really supportive, so I’m excited.”
Williams will take on Johanna Larsson for the first time, but it’s no surprise that it will be the Swede who has the most to fear.
“Its going to be extremely tough out there,” Larsson said. “Serena is obviously No. 1 in the world, so I’m just going to try and go out there and have fun and play my game and see how it goes.”
Nevertheless, Williams will not be taking Larsson lightly as she knows that going into a situation without much familiarity of a player is a challenge.
“I can only just do the best that I can,” Williams said. “I have not played her before, but I will learn a little bit about her game in the first few games and go from there.”
On Sunday, Williams will face Arvidsson, a player she beat the one time they met at the Hobart, Australia tournament in 2007. That match will be followed by Stephens taking on Larsson for a first time meeting.
The fifth rubber is doubles and USA will bring out Venus Williams and Varvara Lepchenko to take on Arvidsson and Larsson.
At this time the Swedes are not planning on playing the other two members of their team: Hilda Melander and Sandra Roma.
There’s no denying that US Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez, in her fifth year as the USA captain, had many options when picking her singles players. All four members of the team are ranked within the top 30: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 16 Sloane Stephens, No. 22 Venus Williams and No. 27 Varvara Lepchenko.
“Basically, we stuck to rankings,” Fernandez said. “Serena and Sloane are one and two for the team right now. Everybody is hitting the ball well and playing great. The good news for me, is I have four great possibilities for all the matches.
“But we’re going to start day one and go with the rankings.”
The USA owns a record 17 Fed Cup titles but has gone without a Fed Cup victory since 2000. They won the first Fed Cup title 50 years ago in 1963.
This marks only the fifth time in history that USA has played in a World Group play-off. Team USA is 3-1 in previous World Group play-off situation, including a 5-0 win over the Ukraine, in Kharkiv, last year.
Sweden has played Fed Cup for 46 years and has been a quarterfinalist on four occasions.
Although Stephens has only previously played one doubles match in Fed Cup -a match she won teaming with Liezel Huber in the Ukraine last year - she has been named to three overall teams. And all three teams she’s been on have always come out the winners.
Consequently, the team is looking at Stephens as their good luck charm, a responsibility she welcomes.
“I’ve never lost a tie, so we’re not going to start this weekend,” Stephens said. “No pressure obviously because I’m just going to go our and play for my team and country. That’s all I can do, just do my best.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Sloane Stephens (USA) v Sofia Arvidsson (SWE)
R2: Serena Williams (USA) v Johanna Larsson (SWE)
R3: Serena Williams (USA) v Sofia Arvidsson (SWE)
R4: Sloane Stephens (USA) v Johanna Larsson (SWE)
R5: Varvara Lepchenko/Venus Williams (USA) v Sofia Arvidsson/Johanna Larsson (SWE)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren (SWE) - 19/04/2013
Sloane Stephens (USA) - 19/04/2013
Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) - 19/04/2013
Venus Williams (USA) - 19/04/2013