BORAS, SWEDEN: When February’s draw for the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-offs pitted Sweden against Great Britain, there was a feeling that it was unfortunate one of the two teams would have to go straight back to where they started.
Both countries had battled so hard to get out of the notoriously difficult Europe/Africa Zone Group I stage in Eilat, Israel earlier this year – Sweden had defeated a Poland side, containing Agnieszka Radwanska, to clinch promotion, while Britain managed to escape for the first time in eight years.
But such is the nature of the Fed Cup format that only one of the sides could then go up into World Group II – and Sweden thoroughly deserve their place after an accomplished and professional performance in Boras over this past weekend.
With not much separating the No. 1 and No. 2 players of both countries, the tie had been predicted to be a tight affair. Sweden were perhaps slight favourites by virtue of home advantage, but Britain had the stronger squad depth with their No. 3 and No. 4 players ranked considerably higher than their counterparts.
It was the opening day which set the tone for Sweden. With the slow indoor court favouring Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson, they both made short work of their opponents, beating Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong, respectively, in straight sets to earn a 2-0 lead.
But it was the first reverse singles rubber on Sunday which was undoubtedly the most satisfying victory of the weekend for Sweden. Against 18-year-old world No. 121 Laura Robson, who belied both her age and ranking in her Fed Cup singles debut, Arvidsson showed the grit, determination, commitment and spirit which won her this year’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Heart Award for the Europe/Africa Zone.
Captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik can now look forward to the draw in June, which will take place at Roland Garros during the second week of the French Open, for next year’s competition. The World Group II is where she feels her side deserves to be.
“I have said for a while now that I think we have a team that belongs in the World Group,” said Tomsvik. “I know it’s very tough to stay there; we got up there [last year] and we lost to Ukraine and Switzerland, who are two great teams.
“I know the margins are really tough but I think a year from now, both Sofia and Johanna will have improved their rankings and I think we’re going to have an even stronger No. 3 and No. 4, so I am very optimistic about the future.”
For Great Britain, there was an immediate sense of disappointment, although the victory in the final doubles rubber to reduce the deficit to 4-1 slightly softened the blow.
You could see what it meant, though, when just moments after defeat, young Robson sat on her chair beside British captain Judy Murray and cried into her towel, while being consoled by her teammates. She had given absolutely everything, hitting 47 winners which was a remarkable achievement on such a slow court.
“In Fed Cup you're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for your country, and all the emotion that built up on court just came through,” said Robson. “I had so many opportunities. I will just try to bring the fighting spirit into those [future tour] matches.”
Her captain was immensely proud. This was the performance of a player who, Murray reckons, could reach the Top 50 this year. And considering that Britain also have another fine prospect in 19-year-old Heather Watson, the future looks bright.
“I hope that Anne and Bally will continue for a few more years yet,” said Murray, “but we have a very exciting future ahead with Heather and Laura.”
It has been an enjoyable first few months in the job for Murray. The mother of world No. 4 Andy has relished the role since taking it on last December and although it is back to Group I for Britain, Murray is determined to come through it once again next year.
“You have to win four matches in four days which is a big ask, but we have strength in depth,” said Murray. “We have done it before and we will go out there to do it again, because having got this far we have seen the buzz that it creates around British women’s tennis.”
Captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik (SWE) - 22/04/2012
Judy Murray (GBR) - 22/04/2012