BARCELONA, SPAIN: Spain booked their place in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group following a 4-0 win over Japan.
Two influential displays by world number 23 Carla Suarez Navarro, either side of an impressive win by Silvia Soler-Espinosa, gave the Spaniards an unassailable lead.
The Spanish doubles pairing of Lourdes Dominguez Lino and Anabel Medina Garrigues completed the victory, beating Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Misaki Doi 64 75 in the doubles after the scheduled fourth singles rubber was not played.
The result consigns Japan to World Group II after the team suffered another defeat following their 3-2 loss to Russia in February.
Japan has enjoyed a promising rise in the competition in recent years, climbing from Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 in 2011 to the World Group this year.
But they will return to the second tier of the competition after succumbing to a side playing in front of a home crowd on their favoured clay surface.
In contrast, Spain now have the opportunity to challenge for a sixth Fed Cup title, having beaten Ukraine 3-1 in their first round tie.
Spanish No. 1 Suarez Navarro had got her side off to the perfect start on Saturday with a comfortable win over world No. 89 Misaki Doi.
That was followed by an accomplished performance by Silvia Soler-Espinosa, who claimed an emphatic 62 63 win over Ayumi Morita, who sits 22 places above the Spaniard in the world rankings.
The results meant Spain went into Sunday’s ties needing just a point to secure a return to the World Group - and Navarro duly delivered with a 63 75 win over Morita.
The victory is particularly sweet for former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez, presiding over her just her second Fed Cup tie as captain after taking over from Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in January.
“It feels great. It’s very special to be back in the World Group for us. We had a fantastic week,” said an ecstatic Martinez.
“The girls played really good matches, they practised well, and the spirit of the team was really positive. I’m very happy.
“Spain has great players and I think Spain being in the World Group is what we deserve, because we have good quality players.”
Martinez admitted that her team had been helped by the tie being played on clay courts and was quick to acknowledge the fantastic home support.
“Playing on clay with our crowd helped our players. I think that was the key. We play better on that surface,” she said.
“Today it was very nice to see all the people rooting for Spain. It’s always nice in moments when you are a little bit down. The crowd can pull you up. that’s always nice.”
And looking ahead to Spain’s chances in next year’s Fed Cup, Martinez appeared to be cautiously optimistic.
“We’ll take it step by step,” she said.
“I feel like the players want to play, I feel like they are committed to this competition now and hopefully good results will come.”
Navarro, Spain’s star player, was also delighted with the win.
Speaking after her win over Morita on Sunday, the 24-year-old said: “I’m very happy to have won the play-off.
“We are all very happy we are now in the World Group. For us it was a very good tie and we are happy to be there again.
“I was more relaxed today than yesterday. The score going into today enabled me to relax.”
Japan’s captain, Takeshi Murakami was keen to take the positives from his team’s performance, suggesting the physical demands of the clay had taken their toll.
“I’m not disappointed because we didn’t play too badly. The Spanish players are used to the clay courts and we tried our best,” said Murakami.
“It’s not only about technique, it’s also physical and mental, so you have to try hard each day. “Matches on clay courts are always longer so it is important to be prepared physically.”
On his side’s chances of returning to the World Group next year, Murakami was optimistic, pointing to Japan’s impressive training facilities.
“It will be tough but we’ll try, we have good courts at the National Tennis Centre in Tokyo.”