Friday, April 25, 2008

Mauresmo kicks off for France

Former World No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo will begin France’s quest to remain in the Fed Cup by Paribas World Group when she takes on Japan teenager Ayumi Morita in the opening singles match of their World Group Play-off at Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.

Mauresmo, designated France’s No. 1 player for the tie and currently ranked 21st in the world, will play Japan No. 2 Morita, an 18-year-old from Gunma Prefecture, for the first time ever in the opener on the indoor hardcourt surface.

Japan No. 1 Ai Sugiyama will battle France’s No. 2 Virginie Razzano in the second singles match on the first day of play. Razzano holds a 3-2 edge over Sugiyama 3-2 in five career matches.

The full schedule for the weekend is as follows:

Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Amelie Mauresmo (FRA)
Ai Sugiyama (JPN) v Virginie Razzano (FRA)

Ai Sugiyama (JPN) v Amelie Mauresmo (FRA)
Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Virginie Razzano (FRA)
Ayumi Morita/Ai Sugiyama (JPN) v Amelie Mauresmo (FRA)/Nathalie Dechy (FRA)

Georges Goven, captain of the French team, is confident heading into the showdown with Japan.

“We have to be considered the favorites,” said Goven. “But the travel can be a factor in a tie like this. We have players coming from France and the U.S. The journey here is not so easy.” Goven also pointed out that the Fed Cup format differs from that of a regular tournament. “When you are playing against the host nation, the fans can get behind them and make it difficult for you.”

France is 6-1 alltime against Japan in Fed Cup play. The French thrashed Japan 5-0 in a World Group first-round tie in Limoges on clay in 2007, dropping just one set along the way.

Japan has not beaten France in the Fed Cup in 35 years, with its last triumph being a 2-1 win in a World Group Consolation Round semifinal played on clay in West Germany back in 1973.

France defeated Japan 4-1 on the Ariake hardcourt in a World Group I first-round tie in its previous trip here in 1997.

“I have not played at Ariake since I was in a tournament there eight or nine years ago,” Mauresmo noted on Friday. “It was a fast surface then, and from what Nathalie tells us it is still very fast.”

Japan captain Minoru Ueda did not seem concerned about losing Morigami to injury. “These things happen,” Ueda said with a shrug. “I have confidence in Sugiyama and the other players.”

Japan’s hopes will rest on the shoulders of Sugiyama, presently the ranked third in the world in doubles and 37th in singles. If she can find the formula to defeat Mauresmo in their reverse singles match on Sunday, her expertise in the doubles could provide Japan with a chance to win the tie.

“With Amelie playing, France has a strong team,” Sugiyama said. “We will do our best to make it a competitive tie.”

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