MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Serbia can start planning for their first ever Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final against Czech Republic later this year after an emotional 3-2 victory over Russia in Moscow on Sunday. After sharing the opening two singles on Saturday, victories from Ana Ivanovic over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Jelena Jankovic against Svetlana Kuznetsova mean Serbian fans can toast yet another memorable day in its sporting history.
A topsy-turvy 36 60 63 success for Ivanovic put Serbia up 2-1 and just one win away from the Final, before Jankovic produced a composed and experienced performance under pressure to outwit Kuznetsova 61 64. A Russian 64 60 victory in the doubles dead rubber for Elena Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova over Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic will do nothing to dampen the Serbian celebrations that will surely go on long into the Moscow night.
After journeying from the lower rungs of the competition and toppling one of the giants of the Fed Cup in the semifinals - Russia have won the trophy four times in the last decade - it was the unlikely figure of Jankovic’s mother, Snezana, who did such a good job of summing up the weekend’s events. “It’s amazing,” she said as she fought her way onto court to join the celebrations. “Coming to Russia was mission impossible!”
While Serbian captain Dejan Vranes was more optimistic about his team’s chances, he did acknowledge that it had been an adventure strung out over many years. “The journey has been very long - five years long - so I’m very happy to make it to the final,” he said. “I want to congratulate the girls. They played very good. We did everything possible to prepare for the match and I think we deserve the victory.”
For around half an hour between two and three o’clock inside the city’s Megasport Arena, though, it was the Russians who were in full voice and dreaming of another Final. Pavlyuchenkova - so erratic and unpredictable on Saturday - came out all guns blazing and raced into a 5-0 first set lead against a stunned Ivanovic.
The elegant Serb must have been wondering whether this was the same player she had beaten in all three of their previous meetings without dropping a single set. Her Russian opponent fired winners from both flanks for fun while Ivanovic looked on in bemusement towards her team bench. From 0-5, however, the former world No. 1 and Roland Garros champion slowly but surely began to work her way into the rallies and the cracks in Pavlyuchenkova’s game that were so evident 24 hours earlier began to emerge once more.
Ivanovic clawed her way back to 2-5 and even though Pavlyuchenkova finally managed to wrap up the first set, it was clear to everyone that Ivanovic was now back in the match. The world No. 15 rattled off six successive games to level the contest with a ‘bagel’ and set the tone early in the decider by breaking in the first game and racing into a 4-0 lead. Although Pavlyuchenkova rallied briefly, she was effectively done and it wasn’t long before Serbia were just one rubber from victory.
“I was a little bit tense in the beginning,” admitted Ivanovic afterwards. “She was playing well, hardly missing a ball, every shot was a winner, and I didn’t feel like I was doing much wrong. But in the second and third sets I stayed really composed.”
If the Russians were expecting Kuznetsova to reproduce the same sort of attacking clay court tennis that had been too much for Ivanovic on Saturday, then they were to be disappointed. Jankovic, who has won more Fed Cup singles rubbers for her country than any other player, had waited a long time for this opportunity and she wasn’t about to fluff her lines.
Watched closely by the new coach she began working with just last Tuesday, Zeljko Krajan, she was rock solid during a 36-minute opening set that she dominated, breaking twice. Kuznetsova looked like staging a dramatic comeback when she opened up a 3-0 lead early in the second, but she couldn’t maintain that level and Jankovic hit back superbly before holding her nerve to serve out the match.
“I have goosebumps right now because it’s so exciting for us,” Jankovic said after being mobbed by her teammates on court. “At the end I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get in the Final.’ I was like, ‘Just get the serve in, just play the point!’ I was so happy to win in the end, it wasn’t easy.”
Kuznetsova cut a disconsolate figure as she trudged off court, and admitted the efforts of the previous day had caught up with her. “It was a bit too intense for me,” said the two-time Grand Slam winner. “I haven’t played a very intense match like yesterday’s for a while and it was a little bit hard for my body to wake up. Jelena played good today - she didn’t give me much rhythm. I did my best and today wasn’t my day.”
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - 22/04/2012
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) - 22/04/2012
Captain Dejan Vranes (SRB) - 22/04/2012
Anastasia Pavluychenkova (RUS) - 22/04/2012
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - 22/04/2012