TOKYO, JAPAN: It will be experience versus youth when Japan meet Belgium in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off at the Ariake Coliseum this weekend.
Japan, who defeated Slovenia 5-0 in February, will once again be led by veterans Ayumi Morita, 22, and Kimiko Date-Krumm, 41.
Belgium, on the other hand, will be without their top player Yanina Wickmayer, who won both her singles matches when the Belgians lost to Serbia 3-2 in February
Friday's draw determined that Japan’s No. 1 Morita will play Belgium’s No. 2 Alison van Uytvanck in the opening singles match of the tie on Saturday. Japan’s No. 2 Date-Krumm will then take on Belgium’s No. 1 Tamaryn Hendler in the second singles match.
Sunday's reverse singles will feature Morita against Hendler and Date-Krumm versus van Uytvanck. Rika Fujiwara and Morita are scheduled to battle Ysaline Bonaventure and An-Sophie Mestach in the doubles on Sunday.
"We have a veteran team and feel confident about our chances in this tie," said Japan’s captain Takeshi Murakami. "We have been practing well in the lead up to this tie."
A victory would put Japan back in the World Group in 2013 for the first time in six years, while a loss would mean they maintain their World Group II status for another season.
"We really hope to win here so we can get back in the World Group, eventually," said Morita. "I will do my best when I take the court."
Date-Krumm, who first played in Fed Cup back in 1989, will be facing a player nearly 22 years her junior in the 19-year-old Hendler, who is the senior member of the Belgian squad.
"The system has changed a lot since I first played," said Date-Krumm. "I returned in 2010 (following a 14-year retirement from Fed Cup). I would once again like to see us come back on court as a strong Japan team."
Date-Krumm, who made the semifinals at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments before retiring in 1996, has retained her poise.
"It doesn't matter whether I play the first or second match," she said. "I am comfortable with both. I am ready for both matches this weekend."
Belgium’s captain Ann Devries acknowledged that the odds are against her side in the tie, without her top three ranked players Wickmayer, Kim Clijsters and Kirsten Flipkens.
"It will be interesting because we have young players competing against veteran players," said Devries. "It will be good to watch and see how it plays out. This is going to be a valuable experience for our team."
"We are a young team and there is no question that we are the underdogs here," said Hendler. "We will have to fight for every single point. We have been practicing great. This is going to be fun for us."
Hendler noted her side's youth, but also said the team is united in its quest for an upset here. "It is true that we are a young team, but we will fight and do our best. We will all support each other."
Nara said Japan can't squander its opportunity to move back into the World Group. "This is the third time I have played Fed Cup," she stated. "We have been in Group I previously and so I really want to focus on this match."
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Alison van Uytvanck (BEL)
R2: Kimiko Date-Krumm (JPN) v Tamaryn Hendler (BEL)
R3: Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Tamaryn Hendler (BEL)
R4: Kimiko Date-Krumm (JPN) v Alison van Uytvanck (BEL)
R5: Rika Fujiwara / Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Ysaline Bonaventure / An-Sophie Mestach (BEL)
Ayumi Morita (JPN) - 20/04/2012
Captain Ann Devries (BEL) - 20/04/2012