MARIBOR, SLOVENIA: A German team determined to show that it belonged among the world’s elite scored a commanding 4-1 victory over Slovenia in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II tie in Maribor at the weekend.
Germany came to Slovenia looking to book a ticket to the World Group play-offs after suffering two heart-breaking 3-2 decisions to be relegated in 2010.
Led by in-form young stars Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges in the singles, the team captained by Barbara Rittner left nothing to chance by sealing the win before a potentially tie-breaking doubles rubber on day two.
Ranked 12th in the world, Germany were the undisputed favourites heading into the tie against the 17th-placed Slovenians, but knew that the home team can never be discounted on the clay courts of Lukna Arena.
And while they suffered a minor scare on day one, as Slovenia drew level in the singles through its No. 1 Polona Hercog, Germany made sure to give Slovenia no chance of springing an upset on the final day.
The 23-year-old Petkovic showed the form which took her to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and a career-high ranking of No. 24 in January by winning both her matches in style, cruising against Slovenia's No. 2 Masa Zec-Peskiric 63 64 and then dominating Hercog 61 62.
Goerges had some trouble adapting to the surface in Maribor on day one against a fired-up Hercog, who made virtually no errors en route to a 75 64 victory. But the world No. 34 came up big when it mattered the most, sealing the win for Germany with a 64 62 defeat of Zec-Peskiric in the fourth rubber, which was also the first win of the 22-year-old’s short Fed Cup career.
In the end, the doubles team of Tatjana Malek and Anna-Lena Groenefeld were called up only to add the cherry on top, giving Germany the fourth point after Hercog and Katarina Srebotnik retired for Slovenia at one set down, due to Hercog’s acute pharyngitis.
Captain Barbara Rittner was visibly happy after the win. “It’s very important to get a chance again in April to go up. We have so many good young players still developing and they really have the quality to deserve a place in World Group I.”
And she was not hiding that she has big hopes for a team brimming with talent. “If everything goes well and we have a little luck, we can go all they way. That’s our goal – to win the Fed Cup one day… If we keep working hard and we believe in it, we have the quality required. It won’t be this year, but hopefully in the years to come, we will be in the running to be there.”
Despite their win, Germany will head into the World Group play-offs unseeded, which means they will play against one of the three losers from this weekend’s matches in the top group – USA, Slovakia or Australia – or fellow winners of their World Group II tie Spain. The draw will be held at 10am GMT in London on Wednesday.
For Slovenia, the tie marked the start of a new era, playing without its long-time No. 1 Srebotnik in the singles for the first time in well over a decade.
This prompted captain Iztok Bozic to be very cautious coming into the tie, even saying that a victory over the Germans would be like “science-fiction”. And although Hercog’s day one victory emboldened him somewhat, Bozic was quick to admit that Slovenia could do little on day two against a Germany at their best.
“I knew we had a small chance, if we played at our best and they didn’t. But unfortunately for us, they played very good matches... Unfortunately, we lost, but we gave our best and showed that we can be competitive against such a big nation as Germany.”
Despite the loss, Bozic said he was proud of his new-look team, especially the 20-year-old Hercog for her performance on day one. “She did a great job to be focused all the time… Knowing that she did not have a good start to the year, to play such a good match at such a high level at this age, for me it is unbelievable.”
Slovenia will head into the play-offs to keep its spot in World Group II unseeded, which means they will face either Estonia or Canada, which also lost their World Group II ties this weekend, or winners of Group I regional play-offs Argentina and Switzerland.