BORAS, SWEDEN: Sweden and Great Britain battled extremely hard to progress from the notoriously difficult Europe/Africa Zone Group I event in February. Only one of them, though, can go a step further when they meet in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie in Boras this weekend.
As much as both teams enjoyed their trip to Eilat, Israel earlier this year, they are not shy in stating that they do not wish to return. The respective captains have a place in next year’s World Group II in their sights and do not want to have to go through another gruelling and demanding few days in Group I.
Swedish captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik said: “You know what it is like to be in that Zone Group: it’s so tough to get out of there and Great Britain and Sweden, we don’t want to go back, none of us.
“So I know we are all going to try our hardest to be a part of the World Group - but I think both countries deserve to be in the World Group; I think we are good enough for it but unfortunately it’s just one of us.”
The tie is one which is too close to call. Sweden, playing at home at the 2,500-capacity Borashallen, may be the slight favourites, but the visitors arrive in good spirits under the helm of captain Judy Murray, who, in her first week in charge in February, led Britain out of Group I for the first time in eight years.
And Murray is confident of continuing her unbeaten record. She said: “I think we have a very good chance if everybody performs to the level that I know they can. We are very similarly matched in terms of rankings, so I think it will be a tight tie.”
The opening rubber sees world No. 71 Johanna Larsson take on world No. 63 Elena Baltacha – and despite having the backing of what will be a partisan home crowd, the 23-year-old Swede can expect a tough challenge against the experienced British 28-year-old, who has an impressive Fed Cup hard-court match record of 19 wins and just one loss.
Baltacha is fully fit and ready after recovering from a foot injury, which forced her to pull-out of last week’s WTA Barcelona Ladies Open. The British No. 1 said: “I am really looking forward to it. We have prepared really well, we have all been practising unbelievable and we are all fired up.”
It may be the first time Baltacha and Larsson have faced each other on court – but that is not the case for world No. 54 Sofia Arvidsson and Anne Keothavong, ranked No. 79, who face each other in the second rubber. This will be the 12th meeting between the two 28-year-olds, with the Swedish No. 1 leading the head-to-head record 7-4.
Both have been Fed Cup stalwarts for their countries and, ironically, Keothavong played her first ever match in the competition against Arvidsson in 2001, losing 60 62 to the Swede on clay in Murcia, Spain in a Europe/Africa Zone Group I clash.
And Arvidsson, who was presented with the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I Heart Award prior to the draw, expects a tough battle. She said: “We have had many matches, she’s a good friend of mine and we’ve known each other a long time since juniors. It’s going to be a tough match; Anne is a great player and I have to play my best against her.”
Sunday will see the reverse singles played, before Arvidsson and Larsson take on teenagers Laura Robson and Heather Watson in the final doubles rubber. It would be no surprise if the weekend’s tie came down to this match.
It all makes for an intriguing weekend in Boras. Having being relegated from World Group II just last year, it would be a quick return for Sweden. For Britain, promotion would be a significant achievement, considering the last time they played a World Group match was in 1993, the year before 18-year-old Robson was even born.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Elena Baltacha (GBR)
R2: Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) v Anne Keothavong (GBR)
R3: Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) v Elena Baltacha (GBR)
R4: Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Anne Keothavong (GBR)
R5: Sofia Arvidsson / Johanna Larsson (SWE) v Laura Robson / Heather Watson (GBR)