In the absence of the Argentine No. 1 Gisela Dulko, Estonia are strong favourites to reach their first Fed Cup by Paribas World Group Play-off – a fact underlined by the second of tomorrow’s rubbers which pits Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi against 17-year-old Paula Ormaechea, who is ranked 369 places beneath her opponent.
Lob in the additional disadvantage of never having played a single competitive match indoors and one will get some idea of how much Ormaechea and the rest of her Argentine teammates are up against it in the sub-zero temperatures of Tallinn, even if the snowy setting here would do justice to the cover of any Christmas card.
It’s a completely different Argentine team to the one who lost 3-2 to the United States in a World Group tie a year ago. Tito Vasquez, the Davis Cup captain who is standing in for Ricardo Rivera, has decided it’s a good time to give youth its chance. At least the opening rubber between Maret Ani, of Estonia, and Maria Irigoyen, of Argentina, gives the visitors a half chance of taking an early lead in this Group II tie at the Tere Sport Tennis Club.
Nothing to lose for Ormaechea
Jane Brown Grimes, the International Tennis Federation’s VIP, probably could have done without the accompaniment of Frank Sinatra’s version of Moon River, as she opened the draw ceremony at the Reval Hotel Olumpia, but as it turned out the lyrics were quite apposite “…dream maker – you heartbreaker”.
Young Ormaechea, however, doesn’t see it that way – “I’m excited about it,” she says - and obviously she goes into the match with nothing to lose against the world No. 61. Furthermore, she does so with a highly encouraging year behind her in which she reached four clay court finals, winning two, albeit at a lower level of the game.
Coming from Sunchales in Santa Fe, at the core of the Humid Pampa, she is unlikely to have seen snow before, never mind an indoor hard court. Nevertheless, Vasquez is expecting great things from her in time. Her idol is Serena Williams, a player whom Kanepi, coincidentally, pushed pretty hard towards the back end of last year at the China Open.
Kanepi returning to form
Maret Ani (EST) v Maria Irigoyen (ARG)
Kaia Kanepi (EST) v Paula Ormachea (ARG)
The Estonian No. 1 also likes the clay and was a French Open quarterfinalist in 2008, but she thinks her game is better suited to hard court. Her ranking rose to No. 18 in the first half of last year but it subsequently slipped back.
Her form so far this year has been encouraging. She beat China’s Na Li in Auckland just a few weeks before the Chinese went on to reach the Australian Open semifinals. She had the misfortune to come up against a rejuvenated Nadia Petrova in Melbourne but pushed the Russian hard. She also took the other leading Chinese girl Jie Zheng to three sets in Hobart.
“I feel my game is going up,” said the Tallinn-born Kanepi. “I feel it’s coming back and I’m getting more confident and I feel better on court.”
It’s the sort of match that should help Ormaechea to grow up fast. Argentina must hope they can keep things all square on day one and then spring a surprise in the reverse singles because the doubles is not without hope.
Saturday - Play starts at 12:00 (10:00 GMT)
Sunday - Play starts at 11:00 (09:00 GMT)
Kaia Kanepi (EST) v Maria Irigoyen (ARG)
Maret Ani (EST) v Paula Ormachea (ARG)
Maret Ani / Kaia Kanepi (EST) v Mailen Auroux / Aranza Salut (ARG)