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All eyes on Fitzwilliam as Ireland pitch for promotion play-offs

IRELAND play Lithuania at Fitzwilliam this weekend with realistic hopes of making the promotion play-offs in September.

Should they beat Lithuania, they would then face either Bulgaria or Slovenia for a place in the Europe/Asia Africa Zone Group 1 - just one step away from the World Group.

It would be a huge achievement for Seán Sorensen's men who had a comfortable victory over Turkey in their first round match last March.

Following that victory, they had expected to meet the relegated British team in a round two glamour fixture. Lithuania put an end to that scenario with a memorable 3-2 victory over the British in Vilnius. A five-set victory by Laurynas Grigelis over Dan Evans in five sets gave Lithuania a memorable win.

Grigelis, aged 18, is Lithuania's second string player. Their top player is 20-year-old Ricardas Berankis, a former US Open junior champion, who made the second round at Wimbledon and is currently ranked 132, up from 324 at the end of last year.

At Wimbledon, he made his way through the qualifying draw to beat another qualifier, Carsten Ball of Australia, in the opening round. He lost to Spanish player Feliciano Lopez in round two.

In the 2007 Davis Cup, Berankis lost to Irish No 1 Conor Niland, but he is clearly an older and smarter player now.

Niland has also played Grigelis, world ranked 429, beating him in the quarter-finals of a Futures tournament in France last year. Most recently, Grigelis made the quarter-finals of the Great Britain Futures in Manchester. In the same tournament, Barry King went out in the second round.

Also selected for Lithuania are Dovydas Sakinis and Lukas Mugevicius. Sakinis is 18 and world ranked 846 in his first year on the circuit. Mugevicius is only 15 and ranked 863 on the junior list.

Good news for Ireland is that Conor Niland recovered from the disappointment of failing to make the Wimbledon main draw by playing Challenger tournaments in Germany.

Barry King is playing good doubles, making the final in Manchester with American Ashwin Kumar before going out to top seeds Divij Sharan and Vishnu Vardhan.

James McGee, world ranked 508 and also a strong doubles player, made the quarter finals of the Germany Futures in Wolfsberg a few weeks ago. On the minus side, a question mark hangs over the fitness of Irish No 2, Louk Sorensen, who was forced to pull out of the tie against Turkey.

After starting the year by making the second round of the Australian Open, Sorensen has struggled with injuries. His last big outing was Roland Garros qualifier, where he went out in the first round.

Of course, home advantage will make a huge difference to the Irish team and with luck a partisan crowd at Fitzwilliam will see a famous victory for Ireland.


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