| By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff
Photo credit: Kenneth B. Goldberg

The United States will face Sweden in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Playoff, with play beginning this Saturday, April 20 at 2:00 p.m. EST at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in Delray Beach, Fla. The United States brings a strong Fed Cup team to Delray Beach, a squad including Serena Williams, who regained the number one ranking in the world on Feb. 18, 2013, becoming the oldest woman at the age of 31 to hold the top spot since the WTA computer rankings were introduced in November 1975. This was Serena's sixth stint at the number one spot and her latest rise in the rankings takes place nearly 11 years after she first became the top-ranked tennis player in the world. The U.S. team is rounded out by three others who are all ranked in the Top 30—Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Varvara Lepchenko, who made her debut in the 2013 World Group First Round in Italy in February, where she won both of her singles matches.

Team Sweden will be led by Captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren, and feature Sofia Arvidsson, Johanna Larsson, Hilda Melander and Sandra Roma.

The World Group Playoff will mark the fifth matchup between the U.S. and Sweden in Fed Cup competition with the U.S. leading the series, 3-1. The two nations last faced each other in the second round of 1988 World Group competition, where the Swedes won, 2-1. The U.S. won the other three match-ups in 1966, 1975, and 1983. The winner of this match will advance to the 2014 World Group and have a chance to compete for the Fed Cup title next year. The losing team will be relegated to World Group II in 2014. Sweden is looking to regain World Group status for the first time since 2003.

This will be the fourth Fed Cup tie played in Florida and the third played at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, making it the only venue to host a U.S. Fed Cup tie on three occasions. The U.S. squad has never lost a match in its three previous trips to Florida, posting 5-0 sweeps over Austria in the 1995 World Group quarterfinal in Aventura, and against Belgium in the 2005 World Group quarterfinal and the 2007 World Group quarterfinal, both in Delray Beach. The U.S. is 36-4 all-time in Fed Cup ties played at home.

This will mark just the fifth time in Fed Cup history that the U.S. will compete in the World Group Playoff, and the U.S. is 3-1 in those ties. The U.S. defeated Ukraine, 5-0, last year on the road led by Serena Williams. The U.S. beat Japan 5-0 in 1997 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and beat Israel 5-0 in 2002 in Springfield, Mo., before losing to Germany 5-0 in 2011 in Stuttgart. Sweden is 1-1 in two World Group Playoff ties (in 2001 and 2003) and faced Japan in both ties.

This is the fifth year as U.S. captain for Mary Joe Fernandez. Fernandez led the U.S. to consecutive Fed Cup finals appearances in her first two years as captain (2009 and 2010), where the team faced Italy both times. She was the first U.S. captain to accomplish that feat since Marty Riessen in 1986-87. Fernandez holds a 6-5 record as U.S. Fed Cup captain.