HYOGO, JAPAN: Going into the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie between Japan and Slovenia at the Bourbon Beans Dome in Hyogo, both captains were expecting a tough match. So when Japan finished the weekend with a 5-0 sweep, it was a surprise for both of them.
“I’m happy, but also a bit surprised,” Japan captain Takeshi Murakami stated. He described the victories by his players as “tough” but for new Slovenia captain Maja Matevzic they weren’t tough enough.
“Our first player (Polona Hercog) didn’t play good on the first day,” Matevzic said. “She played much better today but didn’t fight to the end and if you don’t fight you can’t win matches. All teams have to fight to the end and I think we didn’t; the result can’t be positive if you don’t fight.”
Hercog, who lost to Kimiko Date-Krumm on Saturday after a solid first set, played great tennis to go a set up against Ayumi Morita on Sunday as well, but then suffered an injury during the second set tiebreak. She continued after treatment, but could only win six points in the first five games of the third set and eventually succumbed 36 76(6) 61.
Date-Krumm continues to be a talismanic figure for the Japan team. Now 41, she’s as fit and feisty as ever, and appears to be enjoying tennis much more now than during before her 12-year retirement (1996-2008). At the post-match press-conference, she was joking with her coach and other players and is clearly enjoying her second tennis life.
She may struggle to chase down drop shots and her serve is relatively tame, but in all other areas of the game, Date-Krumm is a powerhouse. After dropping the first set against Hercog on Saturday – Date-Krumm is a notoriously slow starter and, as she told the media on Sunday, she really, really didn’t like the freezing conditions at the Bourbon Beans Dome – she dug in and gave the Slovenian relentless pressure, cracking her serve in the ninth game of the second set and holding her own serve to force a decider.
She then breezed through the final set 62 to hand her team a precious and inspiring victory that set the standard for the weekend. Morita followed up with hard-fought wins over Nastja Kolar and Hercog – who played excellent tennis until her injury – and Japan were home and dry by lunchtime on Sunday.
Matevzic was impressed by Japan’s performance. “They have good players,” she stated. “I was impressed by how hard they work. When they are on court, they always concentrate and fight to the end and that’s really the most important thing if you want to win.”
The victory earned Japan a place in the World Group play-offs in April. “I’m looking forward to that,” Murakami said. “I think it’s going to be a tough battle, but I’m looking forward to some great competition.”
After taking a 3-0 lead in the tie, Murakami was able to hand 20-year-old Kurumi Nara her Fed Cup singles debut and she was solid in a 64 64 victory over Petra Rampre. In the final match of the weekend, Morita teamed up with Rika Fujiwara to beat Nastja Kolar and Rampre 63 57 60 in the doubles.
Matevzic was not disheartened by her first competitive match as captain. “We had a great week here in Japan,” she said. “It’s a bit different [from being a player], but as a player I know what the player on the court needs, so I can help them with that, but still the team needs to have team spirit and we had that all week, but I can’t change how players play on the court.”
Japan and Slovenia are both awaiting the Draw for the World Group and World Group II play-offs, which is taking place in London on 14 February, to learn their next opponent. Japan are bidding for promotion, while Slovenia are hoping to avoid the drop to Group I.