Russia will start as strong favourites to advance to the 2018 Fed Cup World Group when they entertain Belgium in Moscow in the World Group play-offs from 22-23 April, 2017.
Former Fed Cup champions Russia and Belgium square off in Moscow with a place in the 2018 Fed Cup World Group at stake.
Russia will field three top 30 players, including Elena Vesnina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Daria Kasatkina, while Belgium’s No. 1 is rising star Elise Mertens, currently ranked No. 66 in the world.
Belgium scored a fantastic upset victory over Romania in February’s World Group II first round to earn a shot at Russia and the 2018 World Group - can they prevail as underdogs again or will Russia prove to difficult to contain in Moscow?
Russia vs Belgium Fed Cup match schedule
Rubber #1: Elena Vesnina (RUS) vs Alison van Uytvanck (BEL), Saturday 22 April (2.30pm local/12.30pm BST)
Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina will look to get Russia off to a winning start in Moscow as she begins the World Group play-off tie against Alison van Uytvanck.
Four-time champions Russia, who featured in the Fed Cup final as recently as 2015 when they lost to the Czech Republic, suffered an unexpected defeat to the Netherlands and were relegated from the World Group for the first time since 1999 in 2016, but a largely inexperienced team beat Chinese Taipei 4-1 in February to set up this play-off against Belgium.
Currently at a career-high world no. 15 after reaching the Wimbledon semifinals last summer and winning the biggest title of her career at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells a few weeks ago, Elena Vesnina is the logical choice as top singles player for Anastasia Myskina's team. Vesnina has played 15 Fed Cup ties over the past 11 years, but for most of the time she has been playing doubles - usually with Ekaterina Makarova - and is 2-2 in singles, which she last played in 2014, something which shows the depth of the Russian team over the years.
Alison van Uytvanck was ranked inside the top 50 in 2015 after making the quarterfinals of the French Open, but the 23-year-old Belgian has struggled since then and has played just four matches so far in 2017, only winning one of them (her season only started in March due to injury). She's a good player who's better than her current ranking of world no. 132, but it doesn't look likely that she'll be able to challenge the Indian Wells champion.
Rubber #2: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs Elise Mertens (BEL), Saturday 22 April (4.30pm local/2.30pm BST)
Russia may be without Svetlana Kuznetsova or Maria Sharapova but they can still call on two top-20 players and the second of those top-20 players, world no. 16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will be looking to put them 2-0 up on Belgium on day one in Moscow.
Now 25 and for a long time a player who looked like she was never going to live up to the hype that surrounded her after a very successful junior career, Pavlyuchenkova has found a renewed focus in recent months and it's shown in her results so far in 2017: She made a Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, then the quarterfinals of Indian Wells before winning yet another title in Monterrey, where she beat world no. 1 Angelique Kerber in the final.
Pavlyuchenkova's Fed Cup singles record leaves something to be desired - she is 4-7 overall and, by my count, 1-6 in her last seven matches - but she will be favoured against world no. 66 Elise Mertens. Mertens won her maiden WTA title in Hobart in January as a qualifier but is still really carving out a niche for herself on the WTA Tour, although her results so far in 2017 have been quietly quite solid. The same lack of experience is evident in her Fed Cup record - she has played just one rubber so far, although that was an impressive three-set win over Irina-Camelia Begu in February, Pavlyuchenkova will be favourite in this one, but don't completely ignore the potential challenge of Mertens.
Russia vs Belgium Fed Cup results
Check back here from April 22 for the latest Russia vs Belgium Fed Cup World Group play-off results!
Elena Vesnina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daria Kasatkina, Anna Blinkova, Anastasia Myskina (captain)
Elise Mertens, Maryna Zanevska, Alison Van Uytvanck, An-Sophie Mestach, Dominique Monami (captain)
It’s tough to see how Belgium can emerge triumphant in this tie against a strong Russian team in Moscow, especially without experienced veterans Kirsten Flipkens and Yanina Wickmayer.
Elise Mertens, currently at a career-high ranking of No. 66, will have to produce something special for Belgium this weekend, similar to her battling three-set win over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu back in February. Mertens won her first WTA title earlier this year in Hobart, while she also made the quarter-finals last week in Biel, so if anyone from the Belgium team is going to make an impact this weekend, it’s the powerful 21-year-old.
Russia are blessed for choice in singles and can choose from either Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina, Monterrey winner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or rising star Daria Kasatkina - all of whom are ranked inside the top 30.
World No. 15 Vesnina hasn’t won a match since Indian Wells, so Kasatkina could receive a call-up on Day 1 in singles, with Pavlyuchenkova - who beat Angelique Kerber for the Monterrey title - surely a certain starter.
Fed Cup format
Fed Cup ties are played over the best of five rubbers over two days. Two singles rubbers are played on Saturday, followed by the reverse singles rubbers on Sunday with the tie going to a deciding doubles rubber if necessary.
Player nominations can be changed up until an hour before the start of play.
One nation hosts the tie, with the choice of ground decided by where the two competing teams played last time. Russia will host Belgium at the indoor clay courts of the Small Sports Arena “Luzhniki” in Moscow.
The winner of the Russia vs Belgium World Group play-off tie will be assured of a place among the elite eight-nation World Group for the 2018 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.
Russia vs Belgium: The history
Head to Head: Belgium leads 3-1
Belgium famously defeated Russia in the 2001 Fed Cup final when former superstars Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin conquered Nadia Petrova and Elena Dementieva to win the title
Clijsters and Henin were also present for the two nation’s last meeting in 2006 in the World Group First Round, when Belgium emerged 3-2 winners.
Russia’s only win over Belgium came all the way back in 1968, when they were still competing as the USSR.
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