LIDKOPING, SWEDEN: There is no shortage of experience at the Sparbanken Lidkoping Arena this weekend as Sweden host Thailand in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-offs.
Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson will be looking for her 50th rubber win in as many ties when she takes on Luksika Kumkhum on Saturday, which follows the opening match between Johanna Larsson and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, while Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn, who has been nominated for the doubles, will play in her 53rd tie.
It has been a quick 14 years for Arvidsson, now aged 30, who made her debut as a 16-year-old back in 2000. “I didn’t know there was so many,” she said. “It makes me feel a little bit old but also very proud. It’s amazing to be able to represent my country for many matches.”
Tanasugarn will be hoping that the tie has already been won by Thailand by the time she takes to the court for the doubles rubber on Sunday. The 36-year-old, who made her debut at the age of 15 in 1993, may not be playing in the singles but will still make a significant contribution from the team bench this weekend.
“She helps us a lot,” said Thailand captain Priyakarn Salivorraroj. “A lot of information because she knows a lot of players and then a lot of experience, but she is still a good player in singles and doubles. We are really glad to have her in the team.”
However, for all the sentiment there is in this small and peaceful town on the southern shore of Lake Vanern, both teams are intensely focused on sealing their place in next year’s World Group II. This is the first chance Thailand have had to return to the top 16 for eight years, while Sweden are desperate to avoid dropping back down to the zonal competition, which they know so well having spent eight of nine years there from 2004 to 2012.
“Being able to prepare one week ahead for the tie and at home against top players twice a year maybe, that’s where you want to be, [in the] top 16 in the world,” said Sweden captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren.
“To go one step down, I know that it’s group play, a lot of matches in three or four days. It’s a tough competition with a lot of good teams. This match with one on one and a week of preparation, I think everyone prefers that.”
Larsson, ranked world No. 88, will be highly fancied to give the hosts an early lead as she takes on world No. 214 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, the 22-year-old who won the girls’ singles at Wimbledon in 2009 but has failed to translate her junior success to the senior game, although she did reach the final of the $50,000 Quanzhou event last month.
“I have been watching a little bit of her practice and observing a few things,” said Larsson. “When you play a new player, it’s always difficult. She plays with two hands on both sides, which is always tricky. It will be very tough and I will just try and do my best.”
The key rubber for Thailand on day one is undoubtedly Kumkhum’s clash with Arvidsson, with the form book boding well for the visitors. The 20-year-old, ranked No. 106, has won all eight Fed Cup rubbers she has played and beat Arvidsson in straight sets in the first round of the 2013 Australian Open.
Arvidsson, the world No. 146 who was once ranked as high as No. 29, may be struggling for form, having not won a WTA Tour match since October 2013, but will be hoping her experience in front of a home crowd will count for a lot against an opponent who has never played a match above Asia/Oceanic Group I.
R1: Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (THA)
R2: Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) v Luksika Kumkhum (THA)
R3: Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Luksika Kumkhum (THA)
R4: Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) v Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (THA)
R5: Hilda Melander/Rebecca Peterson (SWE) v Tamarine Tanasugarn/Varatchaya Wongteanchai (THA)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) - 18/04/2014
Johanna Larsson (SWE) - 18/04/2014
Captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren (SWE) - 18/04/2014
Luksika Kumkhum (THA) - 18/04/2014
Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (THA) - 18/04/2014
Captain Priyakan Salivorraroj (THA) - 18/04/2014