Germany and France are old adversaries in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, having played each other in the inaugural year of the tournament back in 1963.
There is no reason to suppose that this World Group play-off in Frankfurt will be anything other than closely fought, though France clearly feels, particularly in the absence of the injured Sabine Lisicki, that they can win on this occasion. Much may rest on Saturday's second singles match between the French No. 1, Aravane Rezai, making her Fed Cup debut and the experienced Tatjana Malek.
Rezai, ranked No. 21 in the world, is clearly the most accomplished player in this tie, but she has lost all her previous three matches against Malek, having failed to win a single set. The most recent defeat was in Marbella when she lost 64 62, also on clay, the surface the Germans chose for this crucial tie. Rezai was suitably phlegmatic. "Every week, every match is different. I have been practising well, and am feeling confident."
There is no doubt that France team captain, Nicolas Escude, is delighted to have Rezai on board. The 23-year-old from St Etienne represented France as a junior, but held out against playing Fed Cup because she wanted her coach along with her. This is not allowed and caused a self-inflicted rift.
However Rezai has now changed her attitude, and was close to playing in France's World Group first round match this year. They could have done with her, the French losing to the USA 4-1, at the same time as the Germans were losing 3-2 against the Czech Republic.
Parmentier has impressed captain Escude
In the opening singles Andrea Petkovic, the German No. 1 in the absence of Lisicki, plays Pauline Parmentier who has been selected ahead of Julie Coin and Alize Cornet, and who holds a 2-0 winning record against Petkovic.
She has thoroughly impressed Escude during practice: "Pauline did not win against USA, but clay is her best surface. She has a really big forehand, and it is always very important to have a big weapon on this surface. But all my girls have been practising really well." Unlike so many teams, France had no difficulties with their travel plans, with the train taking the strain.
The Bosnian-born Petkovic lives down the road in Darmstadt, and received a special cheer yesterday when she was introduced. Obviously Barbara Rittner, the German team captain, will be hoping that home advantage proves crucial. "It was unfortunate to lose both Sabine and Anna-Lena Groenefeld with injury, but we have a great team spirit which is always a key point."
Local girl Petkovic is confident
Rittner admitted that Petkovic had not been at her best in their previous tie, but is confident she will recover her form here. "She has practised really well, is more focused, and has learned from her mistakes, while being the "local" girl may also inspire her.
It was a tough choice for the second singles, but Julia Goerges has not been well with a cold, and needed an extra day to recover. Tatjana is confident and has previously done well against Rezai, although we are quite aware that if Aravane plays well she will be tough to beat."
The last time these two countries met, and they have both been Fed Cup champions twice, was six years ago in Amiens when the French, spearheaded by Amelie Mauresmo, now retired, won 5-0. It seems likely this tie will be much closer.
The full draw for the weekend is as follows:
Andrea Petkovic (GER) v Pauline Parmentier (FRA)
Tatjana Malek (GER) v Aravane Rezai (FRA)
Andrea Petkovic (GER) v Aravane Rezai (FRA)
Tatjana Malek (GER) v Pauline Parmentier (FRA)
Kristina Barrois/Julia Goerges (GER) v Julie Coin/Alize Cornet (FRA)