MINSK, BELARUS: Victoria Azarenka will be hoping to build on back-to-back tournament victories to send Belarus onwards and upwards in its Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie.
Azarenka, the world No. 5, faces Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, the Baltic No. 2, in the opening rubber at the Minsk Palace of Sport on Saturday, and is confident of putting Belarus in a strong position on day one.
“I’m feeling very good, it took a little time to adapt to the hard courts after clay, but I’m very excited to play in front of my people, and we’re all looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday. Fed Cup is very important because we are all individuals, and when we have time to play for a country, it’s a special moment, not only for ourselves, but for the country and the sport.”
The two nations have recent Fed Cup history, Estonia having defeated Belarus in a thrilling Europe/Africa Zone Group I play-off in February 2009. In front of a raucous Tallinn crowd, Kaia Kanepi unsettled and unseated Azarenka to send the little-known Baltic nation up into World Group II for 2010.
But the tables have turned for this weekend’s play-off. Estonia, the incumbent Group II residents, are without their injured No.1 player Kanepi, while Belarus, buoyed by its escape from the tricky clutches of the Zone Group I and the excellent recent form of Azarenka, is fancied to gain revenge in front of a home crowd.
“I think it’s completely different,” said Azarenka, the highest-ranked Belarusian female since Natasha Zvereva ascended to world No. 5 in May 1989. “We’re different players, different courts, different conditions, we just have to look forward, keep our focus.”
Her opponent, 15-year-old Kontaveit, is making only her second Fed Cup appearance, and although she knows she is unlikely to cause an upset, is confident that it will be an experience that will stand her in good stead.
“I just have to do what I can, just do my best, and that’s all that I can do. The team have been really supportive and helping me a lot.”
Azarenka will be followed onto court by compatriot Olga Govortsova, who takes on Estonian No. 1 Margit Ruutel.
“I’m very excited to play tomorrow,” said Ruutel. “I’ve never played against Govortosova, I’m going to fight and do my best…we’ll see what happens. It will be tough, I know everybody is going to be on their side, but I hope there are some few fans to help us.”
Following the reverse singles, the two teams have nominated Azarenka and Govortsova for Belarus to face the experienced Maret Ani and newcomer 16-year-old Eva Paalma for the final doubles rubber on Sunday.
The winner of this weekend’s tie will be promoted to World Group II in 2012, while the loser will be relegated to Europe/Africa Zone Group I in 2012.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Victoria Azarenka (BLR) v Anett Kontaveit (EST)
R2: Olga Govortsova (BLR) v Margit Ruutel (EST)
R3: Victoria Azarenka (BLR) v Margit Ruutel (EST)
R4: Olga Govortsova (BLR) v Anett Kontaveit (EST)
R5: Victoria Azarenka / Olga Govortsova (BLR) v Maret Ani / Eva Paalma (EST)
Captain Sergei Teterin (BLR) - 15/04/11
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) - 15/04/11
Captain Andrei Luzgin (EST) - 15/04/11