EILAT, ISRAEL: Great Britain defeated Austria and Sweden overcame Poland to earn their places in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-offs on Saturday following a tough four days of competition.
The British team relied on singles wins from Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha to secure an unassailable lead in their tie but Sweden had to battle past the formidable opposition of world No. 6 Agnieszka Radwanska and her sister Urszula and needed the doubles to secure victory.
Keothavong began tentatively but then upped the pace in a closely contested encounter with Austria's second singles player Patricia Mayr-Achleitner 76(5) 63 in a baseline duel with some powerful hitting that saw the Austrian make just a few too many errors which proved costly.
"Since I made my debut for the team 11 years ago we have finally managed to get out of this group. I'm so delighted for the team, it's absolutely brilliant," Keothavong said.
Elena Baltacha then got off to a bright start in her match against Tamira Paszek to close out the first set quickly but had a closer run in the second before sealing the tie 61 64.
"I'm so pleased I managed to finish it off in the singles and that we didn't have to go to the doubles, it's an unbelievable feeling," Baltacha said.
For captain Judy Murray the victory was a winning start to her tenure and provided hope for a bright future for British women's tennis.
"I just sat on the bench and kept them company, the players had to go out there and do all the hard work,” explained Murray. “It really makes a difference when you have a team of four strong players, as they have to play every day and they were fresh on the last day whereas other players had to also play doubles ... and we had the luxury of strength in depth."
She said she was hoping that British fans would be able to appreciate the feat by coming to support the team in the play-off.
"I hope we get a home tie so that the British tennis fans can come out and get behind the team," she added.
Sweden, relegated from World Group II last year, were vying to return to the higher tier and Sofia Arvidsson got Sweden off to a good start against Urszula Radwanska with a quick fire 61 62 win in which the Pole, with her right leg heavily strapped, appeared unable to get to many of the Swede's shots.
The tables were reversed in the second singles between the two No. 1 players where older sister and world No. 6 Agnieszka crushed Johanna Larsson 61 60, sending the tie into the deciding doubles in which the same four players competed with the Swedes running out comfortable winners 64 63.
"It's a fantastic feeling because I feel that we have a team that belongs in the World Group but I know that to get there is so difficult. The girls did such a good job today, I'm so proud of them," said Swedish team captain Maria Strandlund Tomsvik.
The Netherlands, who last year were vying for a World Group II play-off place but this time ended up at the bottom of their group, managed to stay in Group I at the expense of Estonia who drop back to Group II.
Luxembourg also held on for another year in Group I after edging out Greece in a thriller that ended the tournament, as they won a final set tiebreak in the doubles 10-8 with veteran Anne Kramer, the most experienced Fed Cup player in history ending a 67th career tie with a win.
Click the link below for more information about Europe/Africa Zone Group I, including individual results from each tie.
- Europe/Africa Zone Group I
Captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik (SWE) - 04/02/2012
Captain Judy Murray (GBR) - 04/02/2012
Elena Baltacha (GBR) - 04/02/2012
Anne Keothavong (GBR) - 04/02/2012
Anne Kremer (LUX) - 04/02/2012
Captain Manon Bollegraf (NED) - 04/02/2012