BESANÇON, FRANCE: The halcyon days of French women’s tennis when Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce and Emilie Loit sent first the Russians then the Americans packing in Moscow to win Fed Cup by BNP Paribas for a second time seem too recent for France to be contemplating a second successive relegation.
But it’s a fact and there will be a lot of pressure upon Nicolas Escude, the captain, and his players to avoid that fate against Slovenia in Besancon.
At Friday’s draw at the Hotel de Ville the French Tennis Federation made it quite clear that defeat was not an option. Slovenia, on the other hand, can play without fear and if they win the opening rubber – as they might – the pressure will crank up quite seriously on France.
Polona Hercog is a clay court player and a very good one. In fact on that surface she is currently regarded as the 17th best player in the world, some 20 spots higher than her overall ranking. But the opening rubber against the hugely experienced Virginie Razzano is on a medium fast indoor hard court which ought to favour the French girl.
“When you’re in form it doesn’t matter on what surface you play,” countered Maja Matevzic, the Slovenian captain once a formidable performer for Yugoslavia. She expects Hercog to be in much better form than she was in February when Slovenia were beaten 5-0 by Japan in a tie that was closer than the score suggests.
Razzano and Hercog met each other only a couple of months ago in Dubai qualifying when Razzano was forced to retire with a hip injury after losing the first set. This will be her first match in five weeks. However, Razzano invariably raises her game when it comes to Fed Cup and in the last year has beaten both Maria Sharapova and Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets in the competition.
“I like the esprit de corps,” she said. “I like to play with my friends. It’s not the same atmosphere [as on Tour]. There is a lot of support and you don’t feel alone on the court.”
After she beat Cilbulkova, Escude controversially left the 28-year-old out of the reverse singles against Slovak Republic which France ended up losing and with it the tie. If her body stands up to it, she is certain to play both rubbers here.
The problem for her is that she is playing an opponent who is fit and in form: Hercog reached the semifinals in Charleston earlier this month, where, coincidentally, one of her victims was Marion Bartoli, who is the best player in France but doesn’t play Fed Cup any longer because of a disagreement with the national federation.
If Razzano can win it should make life a lot easier for the relatively inexperienced French No. 1 Pauline Parmentier, who is ranked 214 places higher than 17-year-old Nastja Kolar, playing only her second Fed Cup match.
But if Razzano loses, that discrepancy in rankings will count for little against an opponent who has nothing to lose. If Parmentier’s confidence is as good as her humour she should be okay. When asked how her form was she replied: “I’m perfect.”
The full draw is as follows:
R1: Virginie Razzano (FRA) v Polona Hercog (SLO)
R2: Pauline Parmentier (FRA) v Nastja Kolar (SLO)
R3: Pauline Parmentier (FRA) v Polona Hercog (SLO)
R4: Virginie Razzano (FRA) v Nastja Kolar (SLO)
R5: Stephanie Foretz-Gacon/Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) v Polona Hercog/Katarina Srebotnik (SLO)
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
Virginie Razzano (FRA) - 20/04/2012
Pauline Parmentier (FRA) - 20/04/2012
Captain Nicolas Escude (FRA) - 20/04/2012
Polona Hercog (SLO) - 20/04/2012
Captain Maja Matevzic (SLO) - 20/04/2012
Katarina Srebotnik (SLO) - 20/04/2012