KIEV, UKRAINE: Eugenie Bouchard couldn’t have asked for a better start against Elina Svitolina as play began between Canada and Ukraine in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie in Kiev.
Bouchard, who defeated Svitolina in last year’s junior Wimbledon final, won the first 11 points on Saturday on the slower red clay of the Sport Club Meridian.
However, the match didn’t finish the way she, nor Canada, wanted.
Somewhat unexpectedly, however, Canada was the happier side at day’s end, levelling proceedings 1-1 thanks to an inspired Sharon Fichman, Bouchard’s lower profile teammate.
“After you’re down 1-0 the best you can do is 1-1, so I’m happy with that,” Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau said with a laugh. “I wish we could have won the first match.”
And Canada certainly had the edge before Bouchard, leading following a dramatic tiebreak, rolled her right ankle.
Movement hampered, Bouchard wasn’t the same player, Svitolina held her nerve and the Ukrainian No. 2 prevailed 67(8) 63 62 in two and a half hours in a battle of the teens.
Instead of Ukraine moving into a commanding position and putting the visitors in a hole bigger than several of the potholes that line roads near the intimate stadium, Fichman scrambled past Lesia Tsurenko 76(5) 26 63 in 2 and a half more hours, taking advantage of 16 double faults.
“It was unfortunate Eugenie lost, but either way I had to go on the court and do my job,” said Fichman, who is now 9-2 in Fed Cup singles play. “It didn’t really change my mentality, but it’s nice to walk out of the (day) knowing we got a point for Canada. It feels good going into Sunday.”
Bouchard’s sizzling initial ground strokes, coupled with an admittedly nervous Svitolina, suggested that the 19-year-old would have a comfortable afternoon against her 18-year-old foe.
Yet Svitolina recovered from 3-0 down, soaking up pressure from Bouchard and benefiting from a rising number of unforced errors.
Svitolina saved three set points trailing 6-3 in the tiebreak, playing her most aggressive tennis by smacking two clean forehand winners, and even held a set point of her own at 7-6.
Bouchard, three places behind Svitolina in the rankings at No. 93, replied with a crisp, predictably aggressive, return. It was Svitolina’s last chance of the set.
To Svitolina’s credit, prior to Bouchard’s injury at 1-1 in the second, she remained calm – she admits her body language is a work in progress. Her reward was a maiden victory in four attempts in the Fed Cup.
“Everyone was supporting me, and it was really great feeling to win,” said Svitolina.
There was no doubting, though, that Bouchard’s injury served as the turning point. She said afterwards she heard a snap and wasn’t pleased with the condition of the constructed clay court.
Following a lengthy delay, which included a medical timeout, Bouchard returned to the court with tape and an ankle brace.
Svitolina broke for 4-2, and the inevitable break in the third came from a wonderful lob – the only time she used the shot with any success. Bouchard couldn’t push off her right foot to make a play for the topspin effort.
Now the question is whether Bouchard can play in the third rubber against a downhearted Tsurenko on Sunday.
“It’s not as bad as when I sprained (my ankles) in the past,” Bouchard said. “I really want to play, and it just depends on how good I can recover. Hopefully I can and I’ll be ready with the tape and ankle brace.”
Canada led 3-0 again in the first set when Fichman faced Tsurenko but was pegged back to another tiebreak. The key point, at 5-5, summed up Fichman.
Under threat from Tsurenko’s clean, deep ground strokes, Fichman struck two defensive lobs in the rally. Panicking, Tsurenko – ranked No. 71, compared to Fichman’s No. 125 – misfired on a slice.
The second set score looked routine, yet it was hardly that. Tsurenko struck three double faults in one game and four in another. She wasn’t getting much sympathy from Fichman, who yelled “come on” more than once after a serve went astray.
The serving woes meant Fichman would indeed always have her opportunities in the third. So it proved.
The first hold of the set came in the sixth game, and fittingly, Tsurenko was broken to end the match.
Tsurenko speculated that watching much of Svitolina’s match, instead of focusing on Fichman, might have cost her. She knows her serve needs fixing – and fast.
“I have to do something with my serve and just put more balls inside the court, not like 10-20 centimetres away,” Tsurenko said. “It was really, really strange match for me because this number of mistakes I made was just unbelievable. I’m still shocked.”
If the second day of play is like the first, more shocks could be on the way.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) - 20/04/2013
Sharon Fichman (CAN) - 20/04/2013
Captain Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) - 20/04/2013
Elina Svitolina (UKR) - 20/04/2013
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) - 20/04/2013