ULCINJ, MONTENEGRO: It was a day filled with jubilation and despair in Ulcinj today as the teams who were promoted and relegated from Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group II were decided.
Tunisia were the first team to gain promotion, defeating Lithuania, and were the only nation to win their tie after the two singles rubbers. Nour Abbes got the North Africans off to a great start when she defeated Justina Mikulskyte 63 64.
That win meant that Tunisia’s top player, Ons Jabeur, knew that if she won, Tunisia would be promoted. She took on Lina Stanciute and triumphed 63 60 in under an hour. Lithuania won the dead doubles rubber 36 61 61 but it did not affect the outcome and there were tears of joy from the Tunisians as they reached Europe/Africa Zone Group I for the first time since 1994.
The other promotion tie saw Latvia take on Montenegro and 15-year-old Jelena Ostapenko got Latvia off to a great start as she defeated Ana Veselinovic 75 62. Ostapenko finished the group unbeaten in singles and did not drop a set.
The second rubber saw Montenegro’s No. 1 Danka Kovinic take on Diana Marcinkevica. The Montenegrin easily won 62 61 to level the tie and force it into a deciding doubles rubber. Like Ostapenko, Kovinic is also unbeaten in singles this week and has not dropped a set either.
Kovinic and her partner, Danica Krstajic, got off to the best possible start, taking the opening set 62. Marcinkevica and Ostapenko were not going to give in, though, and replied by taking the second set 64. This left a one-set-shootout for promotion, and it was the Latvians who won it, taking the doubles rubber 26 64 64.
In the relegation ties, Finland took on Greece and Estonia played South Africa, with the losers of each tie dropping down to Zone Group III for next year’s event.
Despoina Papamichail carried on her good singles form in this year’s competition, she won all four of her singles rubbers this week, when she defeated Tanja Tuomi 60 63 in the opening rubber. Piia Suomalainen then levelled the tie for Finland with a 60 62 victory over Maria Sakkari.
Suomalainen’s victory ensured that the tie went to a deciding doubles rubber and she teamed up with Ella Leivo to face Despoina Papamichail and Despoina Vogasari. The Finnish pair won the first set 64 before the Greeks replied by taking the second 62. This meant that, much like the Latvia v Montenegro promotion play-off, one set of doubles would decide the tie.
It was Finland who won that final set 75, and with it the rubber 64 26 75 and the tie 2-1 to ensure their survival for next year. Sadly, Greece’s defeat condemns them to relegation and Zone Group III for next year.
The final relegation play-off saw the two seeded teams from the event battling for survival. Estonia, the top seeds, took the lead through an impressive 62 61 victory for Eva Paalma over Madrie Le Roux. Chanel Simmonds replied for South Africa with a comfortable 63 62 win over Erika Hendsel.
Once again, the tie went to a deciding doubles. However, there was to be no deciding set as Natalie Grandin and Madrie Le Roux kept South Africa in Europe/Africa Zone Group II for next year, defeating Tatjana Vorobjova and Eva Paalma 61 63.
Estonia desperately missed their two top players who were both unavailable for this week’s event and will need them again next year as they attempt to return to Zone Group II.
There was good news for the ITF’s Grand Slam development fund as three of the players they support helped their teams gain promotion. Ons Jabeur was a member of the ITF/Grand Slam African 14 & Under Touring Team in 2008 and has also received financial assistance through travel grants. Nour Abbes was a member of the ITF/Grand Slam 18 & Under Touring Team in Europe in 2010 and 16 & Under Touring Team to Europe in 2008. And for the other promoted team, Latvia, Jelena Ostapenko was a member of last year’s ITF/Grand Slam 18 & Under Touring Team.