OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: The world’s leading team tennis nation and one of the world’s great team sports nations line-up against each other in Ostrava this weekend, as the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas champions the Czech Republic take on Australia in a first round tie featuring two top-ten players and former Grand Slam titleists.
The team dimension in an individual sport is hard to pinpoint precisely. Many Davis and Fed Cup teams have shown it exists, yet how much can a team ethic overcome superior rankings?
Australia’s problem this weekend is that it faces a massive challenge on both fronts. The Czechs have two singles players in the top 20 while Australia’s second singles player is currently ranked 168, and if it comes down to a deciding doubles, the visitors may have the Australian Open runners-up, but the hosts have the world’s second-best pair from 2012.
On paper, it therefore seems a clear case of the Czechs notching up their seventh successive win.
On 26 April it’ll be three years since they last lost a Fed Cup tie (that was to the then all-conquering Italians), and to see the four Czech players laughing and joking with each other during Friday’s draw ceremony, it’s clear this is not just a powerful team of players but a very strong unit. They will be hard to beat.
Yet Australia stands at the start of a new era in Fed Cup. The first-ever runners-up in 1963 and seven times the champions since then, the Aussies go into the 50th anniversary year of the competition with a revitalised sense of belief.
They have a new captain in Alicia Molik, whose likeable personality covers up a strong seam of inner steel, and they field a 16-year-old who is tipped for great things in Ashleigh Barty.
‘I genuinely believe we have the team to win this weekend,’ said Molik. ‘We come in as a really exciting team. We have Ash [Barty] at the age of 16 who’s one of our strongest doubles players – she has added a lot of youthfulness to our team, who are very experienced both at Fed Cup and international level. And we play a great game and exciting brand of tennis, so I truly believe our players can beat the Czechs. Yes they’ve been the dominant nation but recent results count for a lot, and over the last couple of months we’ve been matching them, so anything can happen.’
The match-up of the weekend sees the former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, ranked eight, face the former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, ranked nine. That will be Sunday’s first match.
Before then, Kvitova will open the tie against the Slovak-born Jarmila Gajdosova, who is being welcomed as a homecoming local by some people in Ostrava. With an advantage of 160 ranking places, Kvitova starts as strong favourite, though that gap may be deceptive as Gajdosova has been ranked in the top 30 and is working her way back after a troubled 2012. After that, Stosur takes on Lucie Safarova, who scored the winning point when the Czechs defended their Fed Cup title three months ago and has beaten Stosur four of the six times they’ve played.
The line-up for the weekend, which seems unlikely to change barring injuries, looks like this:
R1: Petra Kvitova (CZE) v Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS)
R2: Lucie Safarova (CZE) v Samantha Stosur (AUS)
R3: Petra Kvitova (CZE) v Samantha Stosur (AUS)
R4: Lucie Safarova (CZE) v Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS)
R5: Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (CZE) v Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua (AUS)
On their green and gold tracksuits, the Australian players have a little number under their names. It seems random at first, until a pattern emerges. Molik is 32, Stosur 34, Gajdosova 38, Dellacqua 40 and Barty 46. If you list all the Australians who have played Fed Cup for their country, the list starts with Margaret Smith (later Margaret Court) at 1, runs through such greats as Judy Dalton, Evonne Goolagong, Kerry Melville and Wendy Turnbull, and ends with Barty at 46. Or at least it will do if Barty plays in Sunday’s doubles – and if the doubles is live, it could indicate not just a fascinating battle, but possibly the birth of a new generation of Australian presence in tennis’s premier women’s team tennis competition.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 08/02/2013
Samantha Stosur (AUS) - 08/02/2013
Lucie Safarova (CZE) - 08/02/2013
Jarmilla Gajdosova (AUS) - 08/02/2013