STUTTGART, GERMANY: Title holders Czech Republic are likely to face a tough test of their champions’ credentials when they begin the defence of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas trophy with a World Group first round tie away to Germany.
Sabine Lisicki, ranked No.14 in the world and Germany’s leading player in the absence of the injured Andrea Petkovic, will start proceedings against Iveta Benesova, ranked some 35 places below her.
The two previous meetings between them in 2009, both on hard courts, were split one apiece and both made the last 16 last month at the Australian Open, but with around 4,000 home fans cheering on Lisicki inside the Porsche-Arena she should have the advantage.
“It’s great to be in Stuttgart,” said Lisicki, who has had her fingernails painted in the German colours especially for the occasion. “It’s sold out for Saturday so it’s going to be a great atmosphere for sure.”
The second singles rubber pits Julia Goerges, currently ranked just outside the Top 20, versus world No. 2 Petra Kvitova. The German won their only previous encounter, indoors back in 2010, but that was before Kvitova shot to stardom last year with her triumph at Wimbledon and then at the WTA Championships, prior to leading the Czech team to this title in Moscow.
Having also made the semifinals of the recent Australian Open, Kvitova has had to make the quickest turnaround in travelling from the other side of the world in the oppressive heat of Melbourne to the freezing climate in Stuttgart. But she should feel comfortable enough at this venue as she arrives on a 25-match winning streak indoors, including four wins en route to winning the Hopman Cup with Tomas Berdych last month.
“It’s a little different, I have to say,” admitted Kvitova, “but I already acclimatised with this temperature and with the time so I hope I will be 100 per cent ready.”
On Sunday, the respective No.1s will face off in the first reverse singles with Lisicki looking to score a second career win over Kvitova following a straight sets victory against her in Miami three years ago. Goerges is then drawn to face Benesova, who beat the German in their only previous match at the French Open.
Beyond that, in a contest of four experienced doubles players, Germany’s Angelique Kerber and Anna-Lena Groenfeld are nominated to face the Czechs Lucie Hradecka and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
It is 25 years since a German team starring Steffi Graf scored this country’s only Fed Cup victory against the Czechs, who lead the head-to-head series 5-1. Two years ago the Czechs prevailed 3-2 at home and prior to that the current German captain Barbara Rittner was on the home team that also lost 3-2 in Mannheim.
Now in her eighth year in charge, Rittner, who also played in Germany’s title winning team of 1992, believes even without Petkovic, her side can cause an upset over the weekend.
“Well, of course, there’s still a lot of quality on the team even without Andrea,” insisted Rittner. “Sabine likes to start, 12 o’clock she know when she’s on and hopefully we have a one-love lead and then in the second singles we have nothing to lose.”
As for Rittner’s opposite number Petr Pala, the Czech captain is well aware that the weekend will be a combination of pride and pressure for the defending champions.
“It is, I’m very proud of the team, I’m happy about what happened last year but it’s past,” said Pala. “We have to look forward to this weekend, we have a very tough opponent, probably the toughest we could have in the first round so it’s going to be very, very difficult for our team but I think also for the German team it’s also a very tough tie.”
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Lisicki (GER) v Benesova (CZE)
R2: Goerges (GER) v Kvitova (CZE)
R3: Lisicki (GER) v Kvitova (CZE)
R4: Goerges (GER) v Benesova (CZE)
R5: Groenefeld / Kerber (GER) v Hradecka / Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
Sign up to watch this tie live over the weekend on: FedCup.tv
Captain Barbara Rittner (GER) - 03/02/2012
Sabine Lisicki (GER) - 03/02/2012
Julia Goerges (GER) - 03/02/2012
Angelique Kerber and Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER) - 03/02/2012
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 03/02/2012
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 03/02/2012
Iveta Benesova (CZE) - 03/02/2012
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Lucie Hradecka (CZE) - 03/02/2012