'S-HERTOGENBOSCH, NETHERLANDS: Dutch No. 2 Arantxa Rus will kick off the Netherlands’ first Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie on home soil for 15 years against Japanese No. 1 Kurumi Nara on Saturday. In the day’s second rubber, Kiki Bertens will take on Misaki Doi.
Both teams’ captains were happy with the draw. Yuko Kaneko liked to see her strongest player start, while Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis was happy his No. 1 – Bertens – got the draw she preferred by playing the second rubber of the day.
"We’re going to need every tiny piece of advantage in order to give ourselves a chance," Haarhuis said. "As a rule, I don’t think draws make much of a difference, but if it helps Kiki, it helps us."
In Sunday’s doubles match, Michaella Krajicek and Kiki Bertens will face off against doubles specialist Shuko Aoyama and Risa Ozaki.
Rus and Nara played each other once before, in the qualifying rounds for the Australian Open in 2011, with the Dutchwoman as the winner. Doi crushed Bertens 63 60 in last year’s WTA tournament in Sydney.
However, Bertens has an explanation for that loss. "I hadn’t slept more than two hours before that match, so I should do much better tomorrow. But she’s tough. A very active player."
The Dutch hope to build on a surprisingly strong showing at the Europe/Africa Zone Group I event in Hungary in February, beating Croatia, Belgium, Luxembourg and Belarus without dropping a set on Haarhuis’ debut as team captain.
The tie against Japan is a chance to get their home audience interested in the women’s game. The Dutch Davis Cup by BNP Paribas men’s team has drawn a large and loud audience ever since the early 1990s, even as the results have gradually declined since the beginning of the 2000s.
Is Haarhuis the explanation for the team’s new-found success? Dutch reserve player Richel Hogenkamp certainly thinks so.
"I think he briefly needed some time to adapt to us," she said. "[A coach] needs to be a little more sensitive with women than he is with men, in order to make something happen. But Paul is a very, very sensitive man," she added jokingly.
Meanwhile, the Japanese hope to bounce back from a disappointing loss in their first round World Group II encounter against a beatable Argentinian team in February. "There is a lot of pressure on me, and us, after that loss," Kurumi Nara said while nevertheless smiling.
"She will be the toughest nut to crack," Haarhuis said of Nara, whose first name actually means ‘walnut’ in Japanese. "On paper, the Japanese are the stronger team but you don’t win matches on paper."
In fact, this weekend the matches will be won on clay. The Dutch had chosen clay as the playing surface, only to see Nara claim her first WTA Tour title of her career a week later, in Rio de Janeiro – on clay.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Arantxa Rus (NED) v Kurumi Nara (JPN)
R2: Kiki Bertens (NED) v Misaki Doi (JPN)
R3: Kiki Bertens (NED) v Kurumi Nara (JPN)
R4: Arantxa Rus (NED) v Misaki Doi (JPN)
R5: Kiki Bertens/Michaella Krajicek (NED) v Shuko Aoyama/Risa Ozaki (JPN)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Kiki Bertens (NED) - 18/04/2014
Captain Paul Haarhuis (NED) - 18/04/2014