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American Sloane Stephens opens Fed Cup vs. Sweden

April 19, 2013

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — American Sloane Stephens will open the Fed Cup World Group Playoff tie between the U.S. and Sweden against 54th-ranked Sophia Arvidsson at the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Saturday.

The match will be the 16th-ranked Stephens’ singles debut in Fed Cup. She won the Fed Cup one doubles match she’s played in the past.

“It’ll be my first singles match, so it’ll be a little you know, I’ll be a little nervous,” Stephens said. “But I have a great team behind me and I know they’ll be really supportive, so I’m excited.”

The second match on Saturday features world No. 1 Serena Williams of the U.S. against 66th-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden.

“I can only just do the best that I can,” Serena Williams said. “I have not played her before, but I will learn a little bit about her game first few games and go from there. ”

Sweden’s captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren, a former player, knows what advice he’ll offer to Larsson ahead of the match with Williams.

“It’s going to be a very tough match,” Wahlgren said. “It’s probably the biggest moment in Johanna’s career.

“It will be important to keep focused, but she needs to enjoy playing against the No. 1.”

On Sunday, Serena Williams will play the first match against Arvidsson, followed by Stephens taking on Larsson.

The final match on Sunday will be doubles.

Venus Williams will pair with Varvara Lepchenko for the United States against Arvidsson and Larsson.

U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez has a deep team with all four players ranked within the top 30 in singles.

“Basically, we stuck to rankings,” Fernandez said. “Serena and Sloane are one and two for the team right now.

“Everybody is hitting the ball well and playing great. That the good news for me, is I have four great possibilities for all the matches.”

Serena Williams has never played against Larsson and holds a 1-0 record against Arvidsson.

“It’s going to be extremely tough out there,” Larsson said. “Serena is obviously No. 1 in the world, so I’m just going to try and go out there and have fun and play my game and see how it goes.”

Stephens and Arvidsson have met twice and have a 1-1 record. Stephens won their last outing in the second round of the 2013 Brisbane, Australia tournament.

Wahlgren believes that Arvidsson has a good chance against Stephens.

“It’s a great start for us,” Wahlgren said. “Sophia and Sloane had a tough match in Brisbane a few months ago.”

Stephens has never played Larsson at a WTA Tour-level event.

Sweden is not planning to play its other two team members - Hilda Melander and Sandra Roma.

This marks the fifth time the U.S. and Sweden have met in Fed Cup action through the years. The U.S. leads 3-1 in their previous meetings, but Sweden won the last encounter in the 1988 World Group second round action.

The U.S. has won a record 17 Fed Cup ties since the competition began 50 years ago. Their last victory was in 2000.

The U.S. has only had to compete in a World Group Playoff four times in the past. Last year, the U.S. defeated the Ukraine, in Kharkiv, in a World Group Playoff.

This is the third time that the U.S. has played a Fed Cup tie at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.

It’s an ideal location for a team with a lot of roots in South Florida.

Serena and Venus Williams live nearby in Palm Beach County. Stephens spent a lot of time growing up in Broward County. Fernandez grew up in Miami. And Lephchenko has trained at times at the United States Tennis Association’s facility in Boca Raton.

The winner of this weekend’s tie will secure a spot in the 2014 Fed Cup World Group. The losing nation will be relegated to Fed Cup World Group II action in 2014.

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