KOPER, SLOVENIA: Canadian No. 1 Rebecca Marino will get the ball rolling against Slovenia's Masa Zec Peskiric in the opening rubber of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie in Koper on Saturday. The second singles rubber will feature 17-year-old Canadian debutante Eugenie Bouchard against Slovenia's top player, Polona Hercog.
In a surprise move, Canada team captain Sylvain Bruneau gave the nod to teenager Bouchard for the crucial tie that looks very even on paper. The world junior No. 6 has enjoyed a good start to the season and has recently won two titles on clay, including an ITF tournament in Sibenik, Croatia last week.
“She's playing well and has spent a lot of time on [clay],” said Bruneau who is confident Bouchard will justify the call-up and will “make up for what she lacks in experience by being excited and very eager to play”.
Bouchard said she was raring to go to help her country keep a place in World Group II: “I really like the court; I'm feeling good on the clay. I'm going to go out there and try my best.” She will be facing the 20-year-old Hercog, who will lead Slovenia's efforts to keep a place in World Group II next season.
Hercog has had a mixed start to the season, winning five of 15 matches and sliding 20 places to No. 68 in the world rankings since January, but is confident ahead of the Koper tie, especially after recently joining forces with Spanish coach Martin Vilar. Returning to her favourite surface, Hercog hopes this weekend's tie will be a major springboard for the rest of the season.
“I really like this place and I hope we will be able to use all of our advantages,” said Hercog, who feels support from the home crowd will be an important advantage over the weekend. This was also highlighted by Zec Peskiric, who will face a difficult task against in-form Marino, who at No. 61 in the world is the top-ranked player in the tie.
The 23-year-old Zec Peskiric hopes that her clay game will cause problems for the big-hitting Canadian, who prefers quick points. “I feel great. We've been here with the team since Sunday, so we've had a lot of time to prepare and I'm really optimistic ahead of tomorrow,” said the Slovenian.
The 20-year-old Marino, who reached a career-high ranking of 58th on 21 March after making the Memphis WTA final, is not overly concerned by the surface. “The more I've been playing on clay, the more comfortable I'm getting. We've been here a week and I think we're all very comfortable on the surface.”
Both team captains are happy with the mood in their camps ahead of the tie. Slovenian captain Iztok Bozic believes the only advantage for the home team has is the clay surface. Asked about his Canadian counterpart's decision to opt for a younger and more inexperienced player to fill the second singles slot, Bozic said he was not surprised.
“Before the draw, I told Polona that [Eugenie Bouchard] would be the second player,” said Bozic, who feels confident about the team's preparedness and expects the crowd will witness “some good quality matches, at the highest level” this weekend.
Bruneau is happy with the week of practice leading up to the tie. “We really took some time to get going on the clay. We know we're going to have some tough battles ahead – but we're ready for that. The spirit is good, everyone is playing well, and we know it is not going to be easy, but we are ready.”
The full draw is as follows:
R1: Masa Zec-Pezkiric (SLO) v Rebecca Marino (CAN)
R2: Polona Hercog (SLO) v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
R3: Polona Hercog (SLO) v Rebecca Marino (CAN)
R4: Masa Zec-Pezkiric (SLO) v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
R5: Andreja Klepac / Katarina Srebotnik (SLO) v Stephanie Dubois /Sharon Fichman (CAN)
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) - 15/04/2011
Captain Iztok Bozic (SLO) - 15/04/2011
Captain Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) - 15/04/2011
Polona Hercog (SLO) - 15/04/2011