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Spirited Brits plotting to jump for joy

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Jonathan Overend | 15:48 UK time, Friday, 20 April 2012

A giant bronze statue of Pinocchio stands, rather bizarrely, on one of the roundabouts here in Boras, about 40 minutes east of Gothenburg, and venue for this weekend's Fed Cup play-off between Britain and Sweden.

Apparently one of the illustrators who worked on the Disney film lived round the corner - although not in Boras. No matter. Stick a giant Pinocchio on a roundabout, the locals will hate it but some visiting sport journalist will mention it.

I'm told there's also a debate here about whether Boras is a town or a city. That's an easy one; it's a town - a ghost town.

Judy Murray

Judy Murray took charge of coaching Great Britain's tennis stars in February. Photo: Getty  

Again, no matter. It seems nice enough with a well-regarded technical college, lots of students who presumably find their own underground fun, a history draped in textiles and a pleasant river, which Judy Murray plans to jump into if Britain are victorious.

(I should stress that's what her mischievous players say she's going to do. She may have other ideas, but it sounds like a good management trick to me.)

And then there's the Borashallen, venue for this weekend’s tie.

Apart from a lovely little exhibition of Swedish Olympic history in the foyer, its claim to fame is that it once hosted the Beatles. It was 1963 in fact - the year Beatlemania kicked off, thanks, in no small measure, to the fanatical scenes at places such as this.

Now another quartet from across the North Sea comes to play, but this time the stage is an indoor hard court built on wood. ("Probably the slowest indoor hard court I've ever played on," says Anne Keothavong, veteran of a decade or more on the tennis circuit.)

This is a straight play-off for a place in World Group II next year (the Fed Cup, rather oddly, has two World Groups) and Britain last got that far in 1993. It's a great opportunity for Captain Murray and her team, all of whom are in the world’s top 150.

Sweden have two players inside the top 100, Sofia Arvidsson (54) and Johanna Larsson (71) but - remarkably - nobody else inside the top 450. Britain have Elena Baltacha (63) and Keothavong (79) plus the teenagers Heather Watson and Laura Robson, who will team up for the deciding doubles rubber, if it comes to it.

For all the doom and gloom about British tennis, it is interesting to visit a country which, despite a much better recent tennis history, is actually in an even worse state right now.

Even their leading men’s player - Robin Soderling – has, I gather, suffered another setback in his recovery from series mononucleosis and won't be seen again on tour for a good while yet.

This is a very winnable tie for Britain, especially if they repeat the desire and team spirit shown in Israel in February when they qualified through the Europe/Africa zone with four wins in as many days.

"I think the mix of personalities has helped us foster a fabulous team spirit," Murray tells me. "A lot of fun from the younger players, a lot of commitment and hard work from the older players."

"The whole thing is going to hinge on how well we approach it from a tactical point of view. We've got a big job to do and I'm absolutely sure we can do it.

"I've always loved team competition. I love the tactical side of the game and the opportunity to become captain and work with the girls in a team situation and particularly to help them with the tactical side is absolutely right up my street."

And so she has analysed hours of video footage of Arvidsson and Larsson and developed specific tactics for certain situations. She spent Friday relentlessly feeding balls from a basket during the sort of "drill" sessions she believes in.

For a long time, Murray has been seen as the mum who leaps from her chair at Wimbledon when her boy is doing well. (I mean, how dare she?)

Now she's in a position of real influence at the heart of British tennis. For someone who has so much enthusiasm and experience, that can only be a good thing.

And for someone with an accompanying sense of fun and good humour, she hopefully won't be afraid to follow through with her promised celebration on Sunday if she masterminds another British win.

"We're looking forward to kicking Sweden's backside," says Laura Robson with her usual, playful matter-of-factness.

Then it's all down to the River Viskan...

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