BORAS, SWEDEN: It was only a couple of weeks ago that Swedish and Polish tennis communities joined forces in celebrating a Grand Slam title when Robert Lindstedt and Lukasz Kubot combined to win the men’s doubles at the Australian Open. Fast forward 14 days and the two nations must put those celebrations aside to renew their rivalry when they clash in the first round of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II in Boras this weekend.
Even without the services of the injured Polish No. 2 and world No. 45 Urszula Radwanska, the visitors look favourites on paper largely thanks to the presence of sister Agnieszka, as world No. 4 the star of the tie and the highest ranked player competing in any of the Fed Cup ties worldwide this week.
The recent Australian Open semifinalist was nominated alongside world No. 110 Katarzyna Piter as Poland’s two singles players by captain Tomasz Wiktorowski at Friday’s draw to face Sweden’s Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson on day one of the two-day hard court tie to be played inside the town’s intimate 2,300-capacity Borashallen.
World No. 85 Larsson will go up against Piter to kick off the competition before Arvidsson, currently the 135th best player in the world, and Radwanska complete Saturday’s action. Sunday will see Larsson face Radwanska in the first of the day’s reverse singles. Arvidsson will then take on Piter before a doubles that will see Sweden’s Rebecca Petersen and Hilda Melander play Alicja Rosolska and Paula Kania - providing, of course, neither captain tinkers with his pairings ahead of the final rubber of the tie.
Sweden’s captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren says that, despite the quality of the Polish No. 1, he is hoping the combined experience of his two singles players will be enough to get the job done. Larsson and Arvidsson have played 144 Fed Cup rubbers between them over the years.
“It’s a special thing when you play for your country and there are a lot of expectations. It’s not easy,” Wahlgren insists. “Ten years Fed Cup experience for Johanna and 14 years for Sofia - it makes a big difference in big matches.
“Radwanska is very, very good but she doesn’t blow you off the court which means our girls have the chance to play the ball and run, and that gives them a little chance to get involved in rallies. There’s a chance to cause a surprise - you never know.”
While most impartial onlookers would concede that the visitors are favourites, Polish captain Wiktorowski is sensibly taking nothing for granted. “I never pay attention to numbers,” he says. “I know very well all the Swedish players and I know it’s going to be a very tough match - even for Aga. It’s not going to be an easy job for her on court. She’s expected to win those matches but I expect tight matches and a big fight.”
Without both Radwanska sisters, Wiktorowski is forced to promote Piter into the second singles spot, a player on the rise. The 22-year-old jumped from 376 to 122 in the WTA singles rankings during 2013 and beat Kirsten Flipkens and Yanina Wickmayer en route to the quarterfinals in Luxembourg last autumn.
“She’s a fighter and she really enjoys the atmosphere of team tennis,” Wiktorowski says. “She’s an all-rounder, a baseliner, but that’s good for me on this pretty slow surface. She had a couple of big wins last year so she’s used to this kind of level.”
As for the superstar on site, Radwanska, she says she is feeling confident after her run to the last four in Melbourne and is using the potential of a future passage for Poland into the World Group as motivation this weekend - the winners of the tie will compete in the World Group play-offs in April.
“I’m really happy we have the opportunity to get into the World Group,” said the world No. 4. “I’m really looking forward to getting on court. The girls on the team are all good friends and we know each other really well. It’s a great atmosphere and that’s important. We’ll do everything we can to win this weekend.”
If the Poles do prevail, it will be an historic achievement, of sorts. Sweden have played two team fixtures in Boras - a town that lies around half an hour outside Gothenburg - once in Fed Cup and once in Davis Cup. And they won both.
“Yeah, we’re unbeatable in Boras!” joked Arvidsson at the draw. Time will tell.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Katarzyna Piter (POL)
R2: Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) v Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
R3: Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
R4: Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) v Katarzyna Piter (POL)
R5: Hilda Melander/Rebecca Peterson (SWE) v Paula Kania/Alicja Rosolska (POL)
Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) - 07/02/2014
Johanna Larsson (SWE) - 07/02/2014
Captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren (SWE) - 07/02/2014
Captain Tomasz Wiktorowski (POL) - 07/02/2014
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) - 07/02/2014