EILAT, ISRAEL: Great Britain secured the second qualifying spot in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I event in Eilat on Sunday with a clear-cut victory over Bulgaria as Laura Robson and Heather Watson scored wins to give the crowd favourites victory.
They joined Poland, who on Saturday night secured the first of two play-off places from the zone event when they beat Croatia in a thrilling encounter.
Britain repeated their success from last year when they earned the right to play for a place in World Group II but ultimately lost to Sweden, the 2012 event's other qualifiers in Eilat, and had to return this year to do it all again.
A good, rounded team effort by the Brits saw them overcome their three Pool B opponents (Bosnia/Herzegovina, Portugal and Hungary) with relative ease before setting up prospectively a much tougher tie against Bulgaria.
Bulgaria had qualified themselves by beating Slovenia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands to win pool D and the right to meet their British opponents on Sunday.
The promotional play-off was played a day later than originally scheduled because rain prevented any action during the morning session on the first day of the event last Wednesday.
Robson was first on court against Dia Evtimova and wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard, finishing the match in just 59 minutes, winning 60 64.
"I was pleased to get the win today, it has been really windy and quite tough conditions but I tried to get as many balls in as possible and then support Heather as best I could," Robson said.
The blustery conditions on Sunday, following three days of perfect sunshine, caused Watson a few problems at first against her opposite No. 1 Tsvetana Pironkova as she lost the first set 61 to the hard-hitting Bulgarian. Things evened out a bit in the second set when Watson began to find her range and she managed to win some long baseline exchanges with Pironkova as the wind abated a little.
She eventually got the vital break in the eighth game and this seemed to dent Pironkova's confidence a little. The momentum was now clearly with Watson and she stormed into a 4-0 lead before the wind again picked up a bit. But the deficit was too great for Pironkova to recover from and Watson completed a very competent 16 64 62 victory which she said will give her a huge boost of confidence in the weeks ahead.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy, she can serve really well and she's got a killer backhand," said Watson. "I tried to play to her weaknesses. I wanted to keep fighting for the supporters, I didn't want to let them down."
Captain Judy Murray lauded her players' success.
"I’ve got a great team of girls, a mixture of youth and experience and I think the two youngsters, Laura and Heather really rose to the occasion," she said.
Murray added that she was hoping the play-off tie would be at home to increase the chances of her side moving up to World Group II.
"We are hoping very, very much to have a home tie so that we can use the Fed Cup and the profile of the girls to raise awareness of women's tennis in our country, so we'll keep our fingers crossed that we get a home tie," Murray said.
In the relegation play-off, Luxembourg were playing against Bosnia/Herzegovina.
Just as they did in 2012, Luxembourg avoided relegation by winning the very last point of the event, long after all the other teams had finished their participation.
They beat Bosnia/Herzegovina who will return to Group II after a short foray into group I and it was left to veteran Anne Kramer, the record holder of Fed Cup tie appearances with 71, to ensure another year's participation in Group I when she beat Jelena Simic 67(3) 63 61 following Claudine Scholl's 46 64 63 victory over Anita Husaric.
- Europe/Africa Zone Group I
Captain Judy Murray (GBR) - 10/02/2013
Laura Robson (GBR) - 10/02/2013
Heather Watson (GBR) - 10/02/2013