BORAS, SWEDEN: Sweden had the perfect opening day as Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson both won to give their country a commanding 2-0 lead over Great Britain in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off in Boras.
It had looked to be a close tie on paper, but both Swedes were in impressive form to earn straight-set victories on a very slow indoor hard-court, which clearly suited the home side rather than the visitors.
Sweden now just need to win one of tomorrow’s three rubbers – two reverse singles and a doubles – to earn a place in next year’s World Group II. Swedish captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik was delighted with her players’ efforts, but is mindful that there is more work to be done tomorrow.
She said: “This is what I was hoping for, but we still have full respect for every match in this tie. There are three more to go tomorrow and every one is still wide open, but of course I am excited about this start.”
Larsson, the world No. 71, got the tie off on the right note for the home side with a 61 75 victory in 1 hour 25 minutes over her higher-ranked opponent Baltacha, the world No. 63. The Brit has an impressive Fed Cup hard-court match record – 19-1 prior to today’s match – but was feeling the effects of a lack of recent match play, having only played four matches since the Euro/Africa Zone Group I stage in Israel in February.
Larsson hit two stunning forehand winners to break Baltacha in the second game of the first set. The Brit struggled to break through Larsson’s defence and the Swede broke again for a 5-1 lead, before serving the set out in just 29 minutes.
Breaks were exchanged in the early stages of the second set and with Baltacha finding more consistency in her groundstrokes, the set was closely fought until Larsson got the crucial break in the penultimate game and held her nerve to serve it out and give the home side the early advantage.
Arvidsson, the world No. 54, admitted after that her compatriot’s victory had eased her nerves before her 61 64 victory in 1 hour 15 minutes against Keothavong, ranked No. 79. The 28-year-olds were no strangers to each other, having played each other on 11 previous occasions – the Swede leading the head-to-head record 7-5.
It was Keothavong, though, who made a storming start, breaking Arvidsson to love in the opening game, but it was a very different story after that. The Swede broke straight back and raced to the opening set in just 30 minutes.
Arvidsson’s consistency was a marked contrast from her opponent, who was struggling to control her groundstokes. However, Keothavong threatened a comeback in the second set where several breaks were exchanged, before Arvidsson got the crucial break for 5-4 and Keothavong’s forehand drive volley into the net on match point down, to gift the Swede victory, summed up her day.
Arvidsson said: “I knew I had to play really well to beat Anne. I was really nervous; I think we both were. It was just about fighting for every ball and I think that’s what I did.”
The experienced Swede now has the chance to clinch promotion for her country in tomorrow’s first reverse singles rubber against Baltacha. It is a chance she is relishing. “That would be amazing,” said Arvidsson. “That’s our goal. It’s going to be tough and we are going to do our best.”
Larsson is due to play Keothavong, before the final doubles rubber between Arvidsson and Larsson and Laura Robson and Heather Watson. However, British captain Judy Murray has the option to change her picks up to an hour before play and it is something she is considering.
Murray said: “I have to think about the freshness, the eagerness to play and the desire to turn this around. I also have to think about the match-ups. We will look at the match-up of styles and work out the best way to get two singles wins.”
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
Captain Judy Murray (GBR) - 21/04/12
Captain Maria Strandlund-Tomsvik (SWE) - 21/04/12
Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) - 21/04/12
Johanna Larsson (SWE) - 21/04/2012