PARIS, FRANCE: Wins in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas have been hard to come by for the respective No. 1s in this weekend’s World Group II tussle between Switzerland and France.
France’s Alize Cornet lost her first eight matches in the competition and Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele sports a 6-13 record.
They’ll have the chance to reverse fortunes in southwest Paris at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin, located less than two kilometres from the more famous stadiums in the neighbourhood that make up the French Open.
So will 16-year-old Belinda Bencic and Fed Cup veteran Virginie Razzano, the other two singles nominations in Friday’s draw at Roland Garros.
But perhaps Cornet will emerge as the star performer.
Cornet has now settled somewhat in the Fed Cup and sparkled at last week's WTA event at Coubertin, as the French simply call it.
The 24-year-old reached the semifinals, showing her trademark grit in a pair of three-hour marathons, but just as importantly, finally bonded with the Parisian faithful.
The latter support their heroes like no other, though are the first to voice their displeasure – and harshly – when one of their own puts in a less than stellar effort.
“I had a lot of goose bumps when I was playing my matches because the crowd was supporting me so much,” the 25th-ranked Cornet said. “It was the first time I felt this kind of love on the court.
“Something happened last week and I don’t think the crowd will forget it, and will be ready to support me this weekend. But I love playing in Paris, anyways.”
In the second singles Saturday, Cornet meets Bencic, whose style has been compared to retired multiple Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis. Indeed Hingis’s mother, Melanie Molitor, has played a vital role in Bencic’s development.
Bencic wasn’t completely overawed competing at her maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, rebounding from a 0-6 opening set to force a second-set tiebreak against eventual champion Li Na in the second round.
Her rendezvous with Cornet marks her Fed Cup singles debut.
“I’m really happy I’m getting the chance to play,” Bencic said. “I’m really motivated.”
Leading off the first day, Voegele – who extended Victoria Azarenka to three sets in Brisbane – tangles with French No. 4 Razzano.
That French captain Amelie Mauresmo opted for the 30-year-old instead of Kristina Mladenovic was a mild surprise, since Mladenovic ended the Australian Open on a high by claiming the mixed doubles title with ageless Canadian Daniel Nestor and then upset top-10 Romanian Simona Halep at the Paris indoors.
However Mladenovic lost to Voegele in the first round at Mebourne, although largely blamed her defeat on the baking conditions.
Razzano, mind you, contested a competitive match against Melbourne darling Eugenie Bouchard and, unlike Cornet and Voegele, seems to thrive in the team event, possessing a 9-3 record in singles.
“You choose based on what you’ve seen in Australia and in the last few weeks and also the week of preparation,” Mauresmo said. “That was my pick for Saturday. We will see for Sunday.”
Given that Cornet once saved nine match points in an outing and Voegele saved nine herself against Azarenka in Brisbane before succumbing, the potential for high drama exists to begin Sunday.
Should the tie rest on the fifth rubber, Mladenovic’s presence gives the home team a sizable advantage – there was no way Mauresmo was going to bypass the 20-year-old in the doubles.
She is 4-0 in Fed Cup doubles, winning with four different partners.
“It’s definitely a great thing to have,” Mauresmo said. “And also knowing I can put any player next to her on the court. She’s played some Grand Slam finals, tight moments, so I know she can take it.”
Her scheduled partner is Caroline Garcia, while Swiss captain Heinz Gunthardt’s tandem comprised of Viktorija Golubic and Timea Bacsinszky.
Gunthardt entered the tie without the injured Romina Oprandi, a blow since Oprandi has shone for the Swiss since switching nationalities.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Virginie Razzano (FRA) v Stefanie Voegele (SUI)
R2: Alize Cornet (FRA) v Belinda Bencic (SUI)
R3: Alize Cornet (FRA) v Stefanie Voegele (SUI)
R4: Virginie Razzano (FRA) v Belinda Bencic (SUI)
R5: Kristina Mladenovic/Caroline Garcia (FRA) v Viktorija Golubic/Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)
Alize Cornet (FRA) - 07/02/2014
Captain Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) - 07/02/2014
Belinda Bencic (SUI) - 07/02/2014
Captain Heinz Guendhardt (SUI) - 07/02/2014