PARIS, FRANCE: A rookie and veteran sparkled in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II series between Switzerland and France – and it left the nations deadlocked entering play Sunday.
After France’s 30-year-old Virginie Razzano improved her singles record in the competition to 10-3 by crushing a nervous Stefanie Voegele 62 61, Swiss teen Belinda Bencic overturned a first-set deficit in her Fed Cup singles debut to dispose of a surging – but ailing – Alize Cornet 75 64.
Indeed given the way Voegele and Cornet performed Saturday at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin in southwest Paris, we might see something unusual in the reverse singles: Both captains replacing their No. 1s in a live rubber.
As expected, though, Switzerland’s Heinz Gunthardt and French counterpart Amelie Mauresmo were giving nothing away.
“Stefanie didn’t come out to play tennis today,” said Gunthardt. “She was playing against herself. Days like this happen to everyone, but I do believe she can rebound because she’s a very, very good tennis player.
“But right now she’s still in shock a little bit.”
There was little wrong with the 16-year-old Bencic’s outing, as the highly touted junior Grand Slam champion rallied from a 5-2 hole in the opening set against Cornet.
She mostly kept calm and began to dictate in the rallies. “I just tried to fight and stay in the match,” said Bencic.
She was, however, given a helping hand from the coughing and sometimes out-of-breath Cornet, who is ranked more than 100 spots better than Bencic at 25th.
Cornet gestured to her support camp and often muttered during Bencic’s revival. Her watchers will know that’s nothing unusual. Tears appeared to flow in the second set, too, and she swiped her towel against the court in frustration in the dying stages.
Cornet failed to serve out the first when leading 5-3, 30-0, part of a seven-game losing streak.
And this after the 24-year-old reached the semifinals at the WTA Paris event last week at the same venue and said she finally bonded with the local fans.
Following eight straight losses to start her Fed Cup career, she had won two of her previous three matches to somewhat reverse fortunes.
“Alize I think was tired from the effort she put in last week here,” said Mauresmo. “She did her best and tried to recover but also wanted to practice, so it was always about finding a balance. We did the best we could and the physios did the best they could.
“I think she could have done a few things differently on the court, like be more aggressive on the return of the serve.”
Some simply can’t cope with representing their country – the early signs aren’t promising for Voegele – but Razzano has been immune to such hiccups. The French No. 4 thus repaid Mauresmo for choosing her instead of the higher-ranked Kristina Mladenovic.
“When my captain decided, ‘Virginie go and play tomorrow,’ I wanted to do my best for her and for the team – and for me, too,” said Razzano. “I worked a lot in the last weeks and months.”
Voegele’s nerves surfaced in the warm-up when she sprayed balls and the apprehension, combined with Razzano’s attacking ground strokes, were a combination that left the world No. 47 in trouble.
Both tallied 26 unforced errors, but Razzano registered 23 winners – to Voegele’s eight. Voegele posted a first-serve percentage of 45, allowing Razzano to feast on second serves.
Voegele slumped to 5-11 in singles in the Fed Cup. Disappointed, she hit the practice courts later Saturday. “It’s a bit different,” she said of playing in the Fed Cup, “but that’s how it is. You have to deal with it.”
Bencic and Razzano, who go head-to-head Sunday, dealt with it just fine.
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Belinda Bencic (SUI) - 08/02/2014
Captain Heinz Guenthardt (SUI) - 08/02/2014
Virginie Razzano (FRA) - 08/02/2014
Captain Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) - 08/02/2014