Fed Cup World Group II Playoffs preview: Russia vs Latvia

After a series of disappointing results, traditional powerhouses Russia now faces a huge risk in falling out of the World Group in the Fed Cup competition for the first time since 1998. They will face a very tricky opponent in Latvia, fighting to keep their spot in the elite batch alive. Whereas, Latvia will be looking to seal their first-ever promotion into the World Group, with history on the lines during the weekends.

The tie will be played in the unfamiliar conditions at the rural city of Khanty-Mansiysk, but both teams have sent out relatively strong teams to represent them. Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevastova, ranked fifth and 15th in the world respectively, are looking to lead Latvia to glory while the surprise underdogs Russia are led by world number 27 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova alongside former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova.

Russia depends on veterans to seal their fate

After a drought which saw Russia going on a losing streak, they have finally gotten their top players to compete in the competition. In their poor loss to Slovakia earlier on this year, the 91st-ranked Natalia Vikhlyantseva was their highest-ranked player although this time she is also included in the time, joined alongside veterans Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Ekaterina Makarova, and Elena Vesnina.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in action during the 2015 Fed Cup final | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in action during the 2015 Fed Cup final | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

Pavlyuchenkova plays exceptionally well on clay while Makarova is a former top player who is known as a giant-killer, having earned nine top-10 wins in 2017. Furthermore, the doubles world number two Elena Vesnina will look to fill in the shoes of her teammates during the crucial moments, having acted as a huge obstacle to the best players in the past.

Latvia relies on top players for the massive win

For the first time in history, Latvia had two players inside the world’s top-20 and it is extremely fortunate when they were able to get both to compete in the Fed Cup. On paper, this looked like a one-way traffic for them, but the chance of victory would decrease drastically if any of them were to be unavailable with their remaining choices between world number 281 Diana Marcinkevica and 17-year-old Daniela Vismane, ranked 786th in the world.

To secure the win, they would have to depend on Ostapenko and Sevastova to rattle in the wins in the singles rubbers, especially when they are higher-ranked as compared to any of their opponents.

Jelena Ostapenko has been a constant participant of the Fed Cup, having made her debut back in 2013 | Photo: Paul Zimmer / Fed Cup
Jelena Ostapenko has been a constant participant of the Fed Cup, having made her debut back in 2013 | Photo: Paul Zimmer / Fed Cup

Match Analysis: Rankings are just a number?

The tie would be opened with Pavlyuchenkova looking to give the home fans something to cheer for, going up against the crafty Sevastova. The Russian leads their one-sided head-to-head record with a dominating 5-0 scoreline and she will aim to make it six consecutive wins over the Latvian, especially when she has the home advantage. However, Sevastova can never be an opponent to underestimate and it sure will be an intriguing clash on the indoor clay courts with both players’ playing style being a beauty to watch on the unpredictable surface.

It would be followed up with yet another blockbuster clash between two-time Major semifinalist Makarova and 2017 French Open champion Ostapenko. Their last and only meeting came in Sydney earlier this year, with the Russian underdog prevailing in straight sets on that occasion. It would be an uphill task for the world number 32 to produce the upset here with Ostapenko getting inspired to help her country grab the win.

The scheduled second day of action will see a highly-anticipated match-up between Ostapenko and Pavlyuchenkova, the two hard-hitting players who were doubles partners at the Australian Open. The Latvian is the slight favorite in that encounter although Makarova is expected to level things for Russia as she has never lost to Sevastova in three attempts.

If it were to come down to the deciding doubles rubber, the home country will have the edge as they boast the legendary pairing of Makarova/Vesnina, who is currently the top-ranked pair on the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard.

Tie Prediction: Russia to defeat Latvia 3-2

It would be unsurprising if Ostapenko managed to claim both of her singles matches during the ties despite her tricky opponents although Sevastova could be vulnerable to the tough challenge put up by Pavlyuchenkova and Makarova, having a combined 0-8 head-to-head record against them.