OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC: Australia is discovering why the Czech Republic has not lost a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie for nearly three years. At the end of the first day of the first round tie in Ostrava, the Czechs lead 2-0 after wins for Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova.
Kvitova’s 76(2) 63 victory over Jarmila Gajdosova was hardly unexpected. Although the Australian’s ranking of 168 says more about her disappointing 2012 than about her ability to challenge the best, she was never seriously expected to threaten the former Wimbledon champion. But Safarova’s 76(6) 76(4) win over Sam Stosur was something of a shock, especially after the Australian had raced to a 4-1 lead in the first set.
There was no doubt the second match provided the more interesting tennis. Stosur’s willingness to mix up her two-handed backhand with her one-handed slice meant Safarova was constantly facing variations of pace. And while Stosur was always looking to drive Safarova out of position with her in-to-out forehand, Safarova constantly ambushed Stosur with her sudden injections of pace. Yet as the match wore on, nerves and the willingness to be bold also played a part.
The first set took a marathon 82 minutes, characterised by three 10-minute games. With the Australian leading 3-0, Safarova had to work fiercely to win her first game at 1-3. A marathon eighth game should have allowed Safarova to get back to 4-4, but instead Stosur led 5-3. That seemed to have broken the back of the set, but Safarova won three games on the run as Stosur lost her nerve. Yet Safarova lost hers serving for the set at 6-5, as Stosur suddenly became more positive.
That positivity carried Stosur to 6-4 in the tiebreak, helped by a double fault at 4-5 by Safarova. But Stosur herself double-faulted at 6-5 in going for too big a second serve. The momentum switched back Safarova’s way, and she profited from two Stosur errors to take the lengthy set.
Had the Czech left-hander converted the break point she had at 1-0 in the second set, the match might have been over in somewhat less than the two and a half hours it eventually took. In fact Stosur broke to lead 2-1 but was broken straight back. The Australian broke again to lead 6-5, but at 30-30 hesitated when she seemed to have a set point – her serve out wide drew a high backhand return, which Stosur first thought about smashing, then let drop, and then watched in horror as she framed a forehand long.
The tiebreak was close, but at 3-3 Stosur stopped in the middle of a point to challenge, was proved wrong, and Safarova raced to 6-3. Some agile defensive work on the backhand by Stosur saved the first match point, but Safarova’s weight and depth of shot finally told on the second, as the Czech sealed a hugely popular victory.
Kvitova’s win in the opening rubber, which was much scrappier in terms of the tennis played, looks routine on paper, but for much of the first set the Czechs’ top player looked unsettled as Gajdosova’s go-for-broke style drew a number of errors from the tall left-hander. And when Gajdosova led 4-2 in the first set, an upset was at least plausible.
The match was effectively decided not so much in the eighth game, when Kvitova broke back, but in the few minutes at the end of the first set when Gajdosova missed the chance to break for 6-5.
Reducing Kvitova to 15-40, the Australian lost out in two long rallies, and when she lost the first three points of the tiebreak, she had let her opponent get away.
Kvitova won the tiebreak 7-2 to take the first set in 58 minutes, and once she had broken in the third game of the second, she was never in trouble. The Czech should perhaps have won more easily than she did, a flurry of breaks allowing the Czechoslovak-born Australian to keep up the threat until a netted backhand sealed victory for the hosts.
The Australians are remaining upbeat about their chances on the final day. “We’re here to win,”said their captain Alicia Molik, and Stosur felt she had played well enough against one Czech left-hander (Safarova) to feel confident about putting up a good fight against the other (Kvitova) in the first reverse singles. But with photos adorning the Cez Arena showing the Czech players posing with the Davis and Fed Cups, the Aussies are being left in no doubt that they are visiting the current Fortress Fed Cup.
View match statistics here: Live scores
Lucie Safarova (CZE) - 09/02/2013
Samantha Stosur (AUS) - 09/02/2013
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 09/02/2013
Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) - 09/02/2013
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 09/02/2013
Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) - 09/02/2013