MARIBOR, SLOVENIA: Friendships will have to be put on hold temporarily as long-time friends Andrea Petkovic of Germany and Masa Zec-Peskiric of Slovenia open the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie between their countries on Saturday. In the second rubber, Slovenian No. 1 Polona Hercog will play Julia Georges.
Australian Open quarterfinalist Petkovic got her wish of starting proceedings against Slovenia by having her name drawn out first at the official draw in sunny Maribor on Friday. But she will face a bitter-sweet moment entering the clay courts of the Lukna Arena as she sees fellow 24-year-old Zec-Peskiric on the other side of the net.
“It’s always tough to play a good friend, but on the other hand when sports come into play you have to forget about friendship and give it your best. Afterwards we can have a drink,” said Petkovic, who reached a career-high world ranking of No. 24 at the end of January.
Petkovic will lead an in-form German team in its efforts to make a speedy return to the World Group I after two narrow losses saw them eliminated from the elite eight last year. She is teaming up with 23-year-old Georges, who at No. 34 in the world also achieved the highest ranking of her career at the end of January.
For the home team the challenge will be all the greater because the team is entering a new era without long-time No. 1 Katarina Srebotnik, who retired from singles play late last year. The 29-year-old, who was a feature of the national team for nearly 15 years, will still be available to play in the doubles, but the bulk of the responsibility will now be on the 20-year-old Hercog.
This does not faze the Maribor native who is just happy to be able to play at home (the Lukna Arena is only a 15-minute walk from her family house). “It is always a great feeling playing at home. I’m really looking forward to the match and I hope the public will be here for us.”
Admitting that Germany are the favourites, Hercog believes that the home crowd and the clay surface could be the factors that tip the scale in Slovenia’s favour. “I think the court is phenomenal, I feel very good on it… I really think it could be a plus for us playing on clay as opposed to hard court.”
Slovenian captain Iztok Bozic agrees: “Our players play the best tennis on clay; it suits our way of play.” He said another advantage for Slovenia could be the fact that the team was coming into the tie without too high expectations, having just battled back to the World Group with a win over Japan last April after seven years. “The strategy is to play our best and we’ll see at the end whether that’s enough for an upset.”
German captain Barbara Rittner is confident that her team will not be affected by the surface. “It's always difficult to come from Australia on the hard court to the clay indoors, but the court is very good and we've had five whole days to adjust to it and we're ready to play tomorrow.”
Petkovic echoed this sentiment, saying that with experience she has been able to make the adjustment from the quick hard courts to clay much quicker. “I think I’m fine. I felt the ball quite well, I’m moving good, so I think we should be quite fine tomorrow.”
Petkovic is moreover quick to point out that Germany is currently riding a high in women’s tennis. “What's really good about Germany is that we have such young players and that we have so much potential and so much talent which we haven't grown up to yet. So I really think that one day we can win the Fed Cup in the near future. I’m convinced about that.”
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Masa Zec-Peskiric (SLO) v Andrea Petkovic (GER)
R2: Polona Hercog (SLO) v Julia Goerges (GER)
R3: Polona Hercog (SLO) v Andrea Petkovic (GER)
R4: Masa Zec-Peskiric (SLO) v Julia Goerges (GER)
R5: Polona Hercog/Katarina Srebotnik (SLO) v Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Tatjana Malek (GER)
Polona Hercog (SLO) - 04/02/2011
Andrea Petkovic (GER) - 04/02/2011
Captain Barbara Rittner (GER) - 04/02/2011