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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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Taking care of business: (From left) Rika Fujiwara, Ayumi Morita, Kurumi Nara and Kimiko Date-Krumm led Japan to a 4-1 victory over Belgium in last weekend's Fed Cup tie. AFP-JIJI

Japan's return to Fed Cup World Group brings new challenge


Staff writer

Japan's 4-1 victory over Belgium in their Fed Cup World Group playoff last weekend will put the host nation back into the event's top tier next year for the first time since 2007.

The experience of Japan's top two players, Ayumi Morita and Kimiko Date-Krumm, proved decisive against a young team from Belgium, as the pair recorded three victories in singles to secure the tie.

Japan captain Takeshi Murakami was clearly pleased with his squad's result.

"I am relieved to be back in the World Group after six years," he said, "especially because my players were not always in the best condition."

Murakami said injuries made the selection process for the tie a challenge.

"It was difficult to decide the player nominations," he stated. "I'm very thankful to my players and the staff for their efforts this weekend. We came together and delivered an important victory."

Japan beat Slovenia 5-0 in the first round in February to advance to the showdown with Belgium.

Veteran Date-Krumm, who first played in the Fed Cup back in 1989, was glad she could be a part of the victory and is already looking ahead to her country's future in the competition.

"I'm happy we could win," commented Date-Krumm. "The team was united for a common goal. I do want to see more young players coming into the program in the years ahead so we can have a stronger team."

Doubles specialist Rika Fujiwara, who won the final match of the tie along with Date-Krumm over Ysaline Bonaventure and Alyson Uytvanck, noted how the range of ages on the Japan team was able to converge in a productive way.

"Kimiko is 41, I'm 30 and the others are in their 20s, which I think is a good mix," Fujiwara said. "With the different generations we represent, we can exchange ideas and experiences."

Morita said triumphing in the annual team event gives her a welcome boost.

"If I can win in Fed Cup it gives me more confidence for the regular tour," she said.

Morita knows the stakes will be higher next year in the World Group.

"All the top players are in the World Group," she said. "I need to beat those top players both for myself and the team."

Belgium captain Ann Devries, who was forced to field a side missing its top three players in Kim Clijsters, Yanina Wickmayer and Kirsten Flipkens, praised her young team despite the loss to Japan.

"I was very happy with the way my players performed," Devries said. "I think the young girls did very well. Playing against Ayumi and Kimiko was very challenging for Alyson and Tamaryn (Hendler). They are both very experienced."

Devries raised an interesting point when asked about the absence of her big guns for the tie.

"Every player likes to play Fed Cup, but rankings are important," she said. "The top players have to think about that. It would be nice if there were ranking points for playing Fed Cup."

The loss means Belgium will play in World Group II in 2013.

Devries is confident about Belgium's prospects going forward.

"The players we brought here and the ones we have at home mean the future is bright for Belgian tennis," she said.



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