CHIASSO, SWITZERLAND: It may be a year marking the 50th anniversary of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, but 2013 represents a rather less happy milestone for Switzerland, who face Australia in their World Group play-off tie at the Tennis Club Chiasso in southern Switzerland this weekend.
Thirty long years have passed since the Swiss last overcame an Australian team in the competition and the hosts, beaten in a closely fought encounter by the same opponents in last year’s World Group II first round tie, come into the play-off aiming to prevent another year being tacked on to that number.
Fortunately for the Swiss team there might not be a better time to achieve this than now. Defeated 4-0 by an accomplished Czech outfit earlier this year, the Australians find themselves at risk of dropping straight back out of the World Group after strong performances against Switzerland and Germany in 2012 elevated them to the top tier. They also arrived in the country with their No. 1 player Sam Stosur under an injury cloud, having damaged her calf at Indian Wells last month. She has since come through training unscathed and will play at the weekend.
A victory for the Swiss women over a Belgian team widely picked to beat them back in February and home advantage – the play-off was originally scheduled to be played in Australia, but the two nations agreed to move the tie to Switzerland – present further reasons for team captain Heinz Gunthardt to feel optimistic.
That said, he freely admitted that his team were the underdogs going into this weekend, but attributed this mainly to the presence of world No. 9 Stosur in the Australian team, a player he described as a “superstar”.
“Ranking wise she’s in another sphere from all the girls playing here,” he said immediately after the draw. In world No. 52 Romina Oprandi and No. 56 Stefanie Voegele, however, he felt that his own team possessed strength in depth, as well as plenty of fight. “We showed that we can play pretty well also against players that are ranked better than we are,” he said, referring to February’s heroics against the Belgians.
His Australian counterpart, Alicia Molik, shared the opinion that the Swiss were facing the tougher task this weekend. “I think we’re the stronger team,” she remarked, noting that confidence in the team was riding high following a good week of preparation. “Everyone from the top to the bottom in our team is very aware of styles, very well-educated in game plans and the strengths from our opponents,” she said.
She will be trusting that her team put this knowledge to good use.
Saturday’s first rubber pits Swiss team No. 2 Voegele, who stunned Australian counterpart Jarmila Gajdosova in last year’s tie between the two nations, against Australian No. 1 Stosur. The second match of the day sees 27-year-old Oprandi, playing in only her second Fed Cup tie for the Swiss team having previously represented Italy, take on Gajdosova, a player ranked 145 places below her in the world. Gajdosova won the pair's previous meeting, at the Hobart International in January this year.
Oprandi, to her credit, won both her Fed Cup singles rubbers earlier in the year in straight sets, and faces Stosur in the first match on Sunday, before Voegele and Gajdosova resume rivalries later in the day. The tie concludes with Swiss duo Timea Basinszky and Amra Sadikovic nominated to face Australian lefthander Casey Dellacqua and 16-year-old Ashleigh Barty, both of whom count themselves within the best 40 doubles players in the world. Both captains are able to change any of their Sunday nominations.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Stefanie Vogele (SUI) v Samantha Stosur (AUS)
R2: Romina Oprandi (SUI) v Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS)
R3: Romina Oprandi (SUI) v Samantha Stosur (AUS)
R4: Stefanie Vogele (SUI) v Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS)
R5: Timea Bacsinszky/Amra Sadikovic (SUI) v Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua (AUS)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores
Sam Stosur (AUS) - 19/04/2013
Captain Heinz Guenthardt (SUI) - 19/04/2013
Romina Oprandi (SUI) - 19/04/2013
Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) - 19/04/2013