BARCELONA, SPAIN: Five-time champions Spain ensured its return to the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group next year after polishing off a 4-0 triumph over Japan, who drop back into World Group II after just a year in the top tier.
With Sunday's play starting with Spain 2-0 up, the tie was swiftly decided in the first match as Spanish No. 1 Carla Suarez Navarro beat Japan’s top player Ayumi Morita 63 75 in one hour 48 minutes.
World No. 23 Suarez Navarro made a solid start by breaking her Japanese opponent in the very first game, taking the second of two break points.
In the fifth game Suarez Navarro again gave Morita trouble on her serve, with the world No. 43 struggling to find her rhythm on a surface she admitted yesterday the Japanese find very hard to deal with.
It was only in the eighth game 23-year-old Morita began to fight back, bringing the Spaniard to break point four times – with Suarez Navarro eventually managing to hold on.
Suarez Navarro finally took the first set 63, with Morita visibly frustrated as she saw Japan’s place amongst the top eight slipping from between her fingers.
The second set stayed on serve until 24-year-old Suarez Navarro broke her Japanese opponent in the fourth game.
Morita’s play then picked up pace as she managed to hold a break point in the sixth and bring the Spaniard to break point in the seventh.
In the ninth, at 54, Suarez Navarro was given her first chance at serving for the tie, but was unable to win the vital point. She eventually lost her serve for the first time in the set – no doubt she was feeling the pressure in front of a loud home crowd.
“When it was 55 I tried to concentrate as much as I could on my serve, and in the end my serve was enough,” the triumphant Spaniard later said. “Conchita said to think point by point and not to dwell on what had happened, and the end of the game ended up working out really well.”
With fresh hope for the Japanese fans, the game stayed finely poised until the Spaniard broke Morita again in the 12th, bringing the set - and the match - to a close 63 75.
Suarez Navarro admitted that victory for her and Soler Espinosa against their Japanese opponents, and the comfortable two-point cushion achieved for Spain on day one, had left her more relaxed to polish going into her tie with Morita.
“I was more relaxed today than yesterday,” said Suarez Navarro. “The score going into today enabled me to relax.
“I was trying to take the initiative in this match but was finding it hard to find my way; Morita was playing very well and was making a real effort to get ahead and equalise.”
“I’m very happy to have won the play-off,” said Suarez Navarro.
“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. The most important thing was winning this match and winning the play-off."
Spanish captain Conchita Martinez echoed the sentiments of her No. 1.
"It feels great. It's very special to be back in the World Group for us," said Martinez. "We had a fantastic week. 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.
“Playing on clay with our crowd helped our players. I think that was the key.”
When asked about the challenges Spain will face next year as it competes in the Fed Cup's top group, Martinez vowed to take each tie as it comes.
"We'll take it step by step," she said. "First we have to see who our opponents are, and then if we have all the right players playing for Spain... Our players are good. They are tough.
“I feel like they are committed to this competition now and hopefully good results will come."
Defeat meant for a second straight Fed Cup loss for Japan, who lost a narrow contest to Russia in February in its first appearance in the World Group since 2007. Japan has enjoyed a promising rise in the competition in recent years, climbing from Asia/Oceania Zone Group I in 2011 to the World Group this year, but will return to the second tier of the competition in 2014.
“I tried my best today," said Morita, Japan's No. 1. "I think I had chances like yesterday, but I wasn’t able to take them. I would have preferred to play her on a hard court but she was very strong and played well. I learnt a lot of things from today’s match.”
In the dead doubles rubber Dominguez Lino and Medina Garrigues continued Spain's dominance, defeating Shuko Aoyama and Misaki Doi 64 75, but Japanese captain Takeshi Murakami insisted the scoreline did little justice to her team's performance.
"I’m not disappointed because we didn’t play too badly," she said. "The Spanish players are used to the clay courts and we tried our best. It’s not only about technique; it’s also physical and mental. Matches on clay courts are always longer so it is important to be prepared physically.”
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) - 21/04/2013
Captain Conchita Martinez (ESP) - 21/04/13
Captain Takeshi Murakami (JPN) - 21/04/13