Belarus enter uncharted Fed Cup territory this weekend when they play host to Switzerland in the semi-finals in Minsk between 22-23 April.
Playing in their first ever Fed Cup semi-final, Belarus look to extend their fairytale run in front of their home fans inside the Chizhovka Arena in Minsk. Standing in their way is Switzerland, who are looking to erase the memories from last season, when they were knocked out in the semi-finals in heartbreaking fashion by eventual champions Czech Republic.
With two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka still unavailable - but a chance to return for November’s final - Belarus will again rely on their rising lower-ranked players to get the job done, while a familiar Swiss line-up comprised of Timea Bacsinszky, Viktorija Golubic, Belinda Bencic and Martina Hingis will be aiming to guide Switzerland into a first Fed Cup final since 1998.
Both nations enjoyed impressive 4-1 victories in their respective quarter-final triumphs, but only one can advance to a final Fed Cup showdown against either reigning champions Czech Republic or the United States.
It promises to be a thrilling semi-final contest in Minsk as Belarus and Switzerland battle for a place in the final!
Belarus vs Switzerland Fed Cup match schedule
Rubber 3: Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) vs Timea Bacsinszky (SUI), Sunday April 23 12.00pm local/10.00am BST
A potentially thrilling showdown awaits as Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Timea Bacsinszky - respective No. 1s for their nations - clash in Sunday’s third singles rubber.
Both players were excellent in registering wins in their opening rubbers on Saturday, and now each will be targeting a second win to hand their country a vital 2-1 lead.
Sasnovich, the current World No. 96, plays well above that ranking in Fed Cup and has won six of her last seven matches in the competition, including Saturday’s triumph over Viktorija Golubic.
The 23-year-old is also in great form having reached the semi-finals of WTA Biel last week and also qualifying for Miami, where she won a round before falling 6-4 in the third to eventual champion Johanna Konta.
Timea Bacsinszky (Photo by JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Bacsinszky is on a roll of her own in Fed Cup after really struggling in the competition over the last couple of years, winning her last four matches - including all three against France in February and Saturday’s straight sets dispatch of Aryna Sabalenka.
A big battle is in prospect as Bacsinszky and Sasnovich aim to propel their nations to a 2-1 lead.
Rubber 4: Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs Viktorija Golubic (SUI), Sunday April 23, 1.30pm local/11.30am BST
A pair of relatively inexperienced players collide in the fourth rubber, with one playing to send their country into the Fed Cup final and the other competing to keep their nation in the semi-finals and send the tie into a live fifth doubles rubber.
Both Aryna Sabalenka and Viktorija Golubic lost their opening singles rubbers on Saturday and they will be determined to make up for those defeats, but both will be under immense pressure, and it could come down to who is best able to hold their nerve throughout.
Sabalenka has already demonstrated a capacity to play under pressure, winning the fourth singles rubber against Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands to hand Belarus the win back in February, while her fearless big brand of hitting from the baseline will hold her in good stead.
Aryna Sabalenka (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP/Getty Images)
Golubic has also enjoyed Fed Cup singles success, winning both her matches against Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova last year, but unfortunately Switzerland weren’t able to capitalise in falling 2-3.
This will be the first meeting between the pair.
Rubber 5: Olga Govortsova/Vera Lapko (BLR) vs Belinda Bencic/Martina Hingis (SUI), Sunday April 23, 3.00pm local, 1.00pm BST
Belarus don’t have a recognised doubles specialist in their team, meaning Switzerland could have the upper hand if the tie comes down to the final rubber with current World No. 8 Martina Hingis lining up.
Viktorija Golubic also has some doubles experience for Switzerland, while we could see Belarus swap out the inexperienced Vera Lapko for one of Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Aryna Sabalenka.
Latest Belarus vs Switzerland Fed Cup results
Belarus 1-1 Switzerland
Belarus and Switzerland are all square and level at 1-1 after a thrilling Day 1 in their Fed Cup semi-final showdown in Minsk.
Belarus, who are aiming to reach a first ever Fed Cup final, enjoyed a great start to the tie, with Aliaksandra Sasnovich continuing her superb Fed Cup form in dispatching Viktorija Golubic 6-3 5-7 7-5 in a gruelling encounter that lasted almost three hours.
Golubic is ranked 42 places higher than Sasnovich, but as she did in Biel last week, the Belarus No. 1 made a mockery of the rankings and got her nation off to the perfect start.
Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich celebrates after beating Switzerland's Viktorija Golubic (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP/Getty Images)
It was up to Swiss No. 1 Timea Bacsinszky to save her country again, with the World No. 22 accounting for fearless 18-year-old Aryna Sabalenka 6-4 7-5.
Bacsinszky was the heroine for Switzerland in their first round triumph over France, and the 27-year-old - who is really starting to hit her stride in Fed Cup after a challenging start - was in stellar form again in what was a tricky showdown against a big-hitting youngster with nothing to lose.
“She’s really a great player and it was a tough battle for me,” Bacsinszky said of Sabalenka. “She’s going to rise pretty quickly probably because she not only has great tennis but I feel like she has a great spirit too.”
Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Aryna Sabalenka, Olga Govortsova, Vera Lapko, Eduard Dubrou (captain)
Timea Bacsinszky, Viktorija Golubic, Belinda Bencic, Martina Hingis, Heinz Guenthardt (captain)
Switzerland certainly hold the edge in terms of experience heading into this semi-final tussle, with their close-knit foursome comprised of current World No. 22 Timea Bacsinszky, No. 54 Viktorija Golubic, former top 10 rising star Belinda Bencic and five-time grand slam singles champion and current doubles World No. 8 Martina Hingis.
While none of the Swiss team has been setting the tour alight in singles this year, Fed Cup is a different battleground, and Bacsinszky is coming off a pair of confidence-boosting wins over France’s Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic in the quarter-finals earlier this year, while Belinda Bencic - who has just one win on tour in 2017 as she continues her long comeback from injury - registered a nice straight sets win over Pauline Parmentier.
Meanwhile, World No. 96 Aliaksandra Sasnovich comes into this tournament in great form, qualifying for WTA Biel last week and crucially posting a straight sets win over Switzerland’s Golubic on her way to the semi-finals, where she was edged in three sets by Anett Kontaveit.
Sasnovich won both her singles rubbers against the Netherlands’ Kiki Bertens and Michaella Krajicek, and she will likely be supported in singles again by 18-year-old sensation Aryna Sabalenka - one of the most powerful teenagers going around and who ultimately sealed Belarus a spot in the semi-finals with a straight sets win over Krajicek.
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. Belarus hosts Switzerland on the indoor hardcourts of the Chizhovka Arena in Minsk
The winner of Belarus vs Switzerland will go on to face either Czech Republic or the United States in the 2017 Fed Cup final in November.
Belarus vs Switzerland: The history
Head to head: Switzerland leads Belarus 2-1
Switzerland have won the last two meetings between the two nations in 2012 and 2003, while you have to go all the way back to 1995 for Belarus’s one and only triumph.
Four players present in this upcoming semi-final tie were present in the 2012 World Group II play-off round, with Olga Govortsova getting Belarus’s only win in the opening rubber over Timea Bacsinszky before Stefanie Voegele defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Govortsova, Bacsinszky conquered Sasnovich and Belinda Bencic teamed with Amra Sadikovic to beat Sasnovich and Darya Lebesheva in the doubles.
Remarkably, Martina Hingis - who will almost certainly play doubles for Switzerland in the 2017 semi-finals - was playing in the first clash between the nations in 1995. Although Hingis lost her singles match in the Group 1, Europe/Africa round robin stage to Natalia Zvereva, she partnered Joana Manta to win the deciding doubles rubber and hand Switzerland the 2-1 win.
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