STUTTGART, GERMANY: No longer the hunters, now the hunted, Czech Republic are proving to be the team to beat in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. Opening their defence of the title away from home they proved again what a formidable force they have become, spearheaded by one of the best players in the world and well supported by those around her.
For Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, this World Group first round tie at the Porsche Arena was another proving ground of her immense talent, power, competitive spirit and ability to adapt mid-match to situations and turn things around.
After her thrilling three-set victory against Julia Goerges on the first day, Kvitova again found herself behind against Sabine Lisicki, who was a much improved player on the second day, especially with her serve. The Czech struggled for the first set and a half to return it but, in the midst of the cauldron-like atmosphere created by both sets of fans, she eventually worked out how to do so better. Once she’d broken Lisicki to take the second set the momentum was all hers.
With the target now firmly on the Czechs backs, winning such a tough looking away tie after the first three matches meant a great deal to their captain Petr Pala. “I’m so delighted,” he said. “If this would be a final tie nobody would be surprised, because it was such a tough one. All three (live) matches went to the edge, they were very close and I’m very happy that we got through this. And after so many away ties I’m really looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd.”
They will do so in the April semifinals against Italy, seeking to avenge a 5-0 drubbing by their hosts in Rome in the 2010 semifinals. Considering how Kvitova hasn’t lost indoors in her last 27 matches no prizes for guessing what kind of venue and surface the Czechs will choose for the rematch.
As for Germany, the loss to injury of leading player Andrea Petkovic was undoubtedly a blow beforehand. But she played her part as cheerleader from the sidelines in a team that combines so well under captain Barbara Rittner.
When the draw was made the opening match between Lisicki and Iveta Benesova really was a must-win for the hosts and in retrospect Rittner agreed that had Germany won that, regardless of Kvitova’s singles heroics, they might have been able to upset the champions.
“I think so, it would have meant a lot to win this match, our No. 1 against their No. 2,” said Rittner. “I still think if Sabine had played as good as she did today (Sunday) she would have been alright yesterday (Saturday). She was a set and 4-3 and all of a sudden she lost it but Benesova played a great match, she deserved to win and she was a little bit better in the third set and that’s how the story is and we lost the whole tie.”
Even so, the way Lisicki and Goerges fought throughout the tie bodes well for Germany’s future. From such an experience, tough as it is to go through, comes even greater strength and looking forward to the World Group play-offs draw on 14 February, Rittner was upbeat about her team’s future.
“I’m very, very proud of my team, we tried our best. I think we have a bright future in front of us, five, six great players. Andrea’s (Petkovic) still injured but hopefully she’s back by April. We don’t know yet, we have to wait and see and then hopefully we can get through the relegation match and come back next year.”
They certainly have the talents to do so. For now though the title remains in the firm grip of Czech Republic and who can prize it off them?