HOBART, AUSTRALIA: A full-strength Australian team and a Russian outfit bereft of its top 13 players always loomed as a mismatch and so it proved in on the first day of this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie.
Casey Dellacqua and Samantha Stosur both took less than an hour to record straight-sets wins over their teenage opponents and put the hosts 2-0 ahead.
A match-hardened Dellacqua, coming off a fourth-round finish at the Australian Open, opened the tie with a 60 62 pummelling of fellow-lefty Irina Khromacheva in 58 minutes. Stosur shrugged off a tight first set for a 64 60 win over 16-year-old debutante Veronika Kudermetova. A win by the Aussie No.1 in the first of tomorrow’s reverse singles would put Australia into its first Fed Cup semifinal since 1993, and its first under the World Group format.
If the young Russians were overmatched, they were far from disgraced. “It was our goal to show the girls the next level, against top players,” said Russian captain Anastasia Myskina. “Doesn’t matter how it goes, to win or lose.”
Myskina had pulled a surprise in selecting the No.650-ranked Kudermetova, the youngest, lowest ranked and least known member of her squad. She won’t be an unknown for long. The 16-year-old was a revelation. A tall, heavy-hitter with a powerful serve, the teen took on the Aussie spearhead without a tremor, blasting down big serves and holding easily to make a tight contest of the first set. Stosur broke for 4-3 but needed four breakpoints to clinch it, and then was broken back immediately for 4-4 before pocketing the set 64.
So dominant was the serve in the first set that Stosur hit zero winners, other than on serve. But the youngster was betrayed by her inexperience in the second set, with the match all on her racquet as she either hit winners, unforced errors or erratic double-faults.
“The first set was quite tough,” Stosur admitted. “Conditions were really quick and lively. There was no rhythm, no rallies, no way to feel your way into the match.” But the veteran sensed her chances would come. “When you’re young and you’re playing that big game, it’s hard to keep it up.”
The youngster came into her press conference beaming. “I played a great player, she stays (top) 20 in world,” said the teenager. “I played not bad today. It’s my first time and I'm happy.” Myskina sees similarities between Kudermetova and Maria Sharapova, and believes her charge has Top 100 potential, at least. “That was our strategy, with the serve,” Myskina said of surprising Stosur in the opening games. “Nika can make many aces. Second set was different. Too many double-faults. But is OK. She did good job today.”
Earlier, Dellacqua won her first Fed Cup singles rubber since 2009, flattening out her lefty forehand to storm to a 60 3-0 lead in just 33 minutes against her 18-year-old opponent.
Khromacheva’s Fed Cup debut just weeks ago in the final against Italy was a baptism of fire; this was no easier. But sheer pride hauled the young lefty back into the contest. She held for 1-3, then threatened to swing the match in the next three closely contested games. A difficult smash winner from the youngster had her captain Myskina out of her chair and applauding.
But the 28-year-old Dellacqua, coming into career-peak form, calmly weathered the storm, breaking serve for 4-2 from 40-15 down, saving five break points in the next game and breaking serve to take the match with a forehand return winner.
“These girls have got nothing to lose and they can come out swinging,” Dellacqua said on the importance of her brisk start. “I think it’s the key. There’s a lot of feelings and emotions in Fed Cup, and I wanted to make it hard for her from the start.” Mission accomplished.
For Stosur, Australia’s leading singles winner in Fed Cup, her 26thwin today was, surprisingly, her first in a World Group tie, reflecting her country’s fortunes at the elite level. Tomorrow, the 29-year-old veteran of the competition will be the overwhelming favourite to also end Australia’s winless run in the World Group.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live Scores or Watch Live
Casey Dellacqua (AUS) - 08/02/2014
Irina Khromacheva (RUS) - 08/02/2014
Sam Stosur (AUS) - 08/02/2014