Ana Ivanovic will have the honour of starting Serbia’s World Group debut in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. The former world No. 1 will face Russia’s reigning French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opening singles rubber of their World Group encounter in the Belgrade Arena, which has a capacity of almost 20,000 spectators.
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) v Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) v Alisa Kleybanova (RUS)
Ivanovic, herself a former French Open champion, is thrilled to be leading off again for her country having done so last year against Japan when Serbia first played at home in front of record crowds: “Yes, very excited. It’s actually good to play first on because I know exactly my time and it’s going to be a tough match, for sure. I have time to prepare, I hope the atmosphere will be good and the arena will be full.”
Although Ivanovic has won five of their six previous matches, including the last four, she is currently ranked outside the world’s Top 20 and will need to raise her game against the experienced Russian. But the Serbian No. 2 has a fine record in Fed Cup, winning 10 of her 11 singles rubbers to date including the last seven.
Kuznetsova, though, is an even more experienced Fed Cup campaigner having played in three title-winning teams and the current world No. 4, who was a late inclusion in the Russian squad, is looking forward to leading her country again: “It’s always great to play for your country and I love this competition. It’s great to be in this team and I’m definitely looking forward to the weekend.”
While Russian fans will be glad to see that at least one of their top stars is playing in Belgrade this weekend, Serbian supporters are relieved that their leading player Jelena Jankovic is fit enough to play. The former world No. 1, who injured her back at last month’s Australian Open, only arrived in Belgrade on Thursday after a long journey from Florida.
Earlier in the week Jankovic said she was very close to pulling out of the tie. But now she has made the trip she insists she is up for the fight: “I feel much better than yesterday, that’s for sure. I’m really happy to be here in Belgrade, it’s a special occasion for us, I’m really looking forward to our matches and hopefully we can give our best and win.”
Jankovic, who has won her last six Fed Cup singles rubbers and 20 in her career, will face the Russian No. 2 Alisa Kleybanova in the second singles match on Saturday. The 20 year-old Kleybanova only made her Fed Cup debut in 2009 but won both of the tour matches she played against Jankovic last season.
Sunday’s reverse singles will start with Jankovic against Kuznetsova, who leads their head-to-head series 5-4. Ivanovic will then face Kleybanova having split their two previous encounters. Serbia’s captain Dejan Vranes has also named Jankovic and Ivanovic to team up in the doubles against the Russian pair of Vera Dushevina and teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
For the record the two nations have met twice before when they played previously as Yugoslavia and the USSR back in the 1970s and 1980s. USSR won both of those encounters 3-0 but this one, which many observers believe would make a worthy final, should be much closer.
Saturday - Play starts at 16:00 (15:00 GMT)
Sunday - Play starts at 14:00 (13:00 GMT)
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) v Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) v Alisa Kleybanova (RUS)
Ana Ivanovic / Jelena Jankovic (SRB) v Vera Dushevina / Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)