HOBART, AUSTRALIA Sam Stosur wasted no time putting Australia into the semifinals of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, powering to a 62 63 win over Russian debutante Victoria Kan to give the hosts an unassailable 3-0 lead in Hobart.
The Aussies will face either Germany or Slovakia over the weekend of April 19-20. Germany would present Australia with a home tie but tricky timing in the middle of the European clay court season.
“It would be nice if it was in Europe for my own selfish reasons,” admitted Stosur. “And everyone else, I guess will be heading to Europe. But we will see what happens with the draw and go from there.” The Germans lead 2-0 in Bratislava, with all the momentum following Andrea Petkovic’s dramatic defeat of Slovak No. 1 Dominika Cibulkova from match point down.
Stosur’s 59-minute victory ended several Aussie hoodoos in Fed Cup. It was Australia’s first win in a World Group tie and first victory over Russia since 1983. Not since 1993 has Australia reached a Fed Cup semifinal, defeating a Steffi Graf-led Germany in the days when the event was an all-nations, week-long carnival.
“It’s great that we’ve been able to do it in three matches,” said Stosur, who also won her first World Group rubbers after coming into Hobart with a 0-6 record. “I don’t know if we could have hoped for anything better.”
“Really proud of the way the girls carried themselves on the court,” said Australian captain Alicia Molik, after her top 10 tandem of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua made it a 4-0 sweep, defeating Irina Khromacheva and Valeria Somolyeva 61 63 in the dead doubles rubber.
“Definitely [the win] was expected but no stone was left unturned with their preparation and training. This team is a real pleasure to be part of - their work ethic, harmony, encouragement of each other has been terrific. I have no doubt this team can win the Fed Cup.”
Russian captain Anastasia Myskina made another selection switch, putting in the 18-year-old Kan, top Russian in Hobart at No. 160, to save the day against world No. 16 Stosur, Australia’s leading Fed Cup singles winner, playing in her 25th tie. Big ask.
A lithe and light mover, with good all-court feel, Kan was physically outgunned by the imposing Aussie, who also happens to be her favourite player.
Stosur monstered with her heavy forehand and kick serve, and savaged her young opponent’s meek serves, to break early in each set. In the hot, still conditions, the Aussie was awesome on serve, powering a 191km ace for the first set and winning 24 of 25 points off her first delivery.
“Sam is my favourite player so for me it was a great challenge to show my best,” said the Uzbekistan-born Kan. “I’m really excited to enjoy this game today. I played not so good but she’s top 20, she won a Grand Slam. So OK. I’m very proud to play. For us it’s really good experience to play a strong team. I try to play better and maybe I meet with her again.”
Australia was a raging favourite in Hobart once Russia’s top 13 players bypassed the event. Even Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev was back home for the Winter Games in Sochi. Stand-in captain Myskina had to content herself with exposing the next generation of Russian players to top-level competition.
“They had good lesson, good matches,” said the woman who led Russia to its first Fed Cup title 10 years ago. “Long time ago I start at 17, Maria (Sharapova) won Wimbledon at 17. At some time we have to bring new girls, young ones, to the team.”
Myskina’s green team (average ranking 336) put up a spirited fight but couldn’t overcome the yawning gap in experience with the super-prepared Aussies. None of the four rubbers extended to an hour.
While Australia heads into its first Fed Cup semifinal for over 20 years, Russia is left to contemplate its first opening round loss since 2006 and its commitment to the event.
Still a powerhouse of women’s tennis with six players in the top 35, Russia will need to recruit more of its stars to maintain its elite standing in the World Group.
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Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) - 09/02/2014
Captain Anastasia Myskina (RUS) - 09/02/2014
Sam Stosur (AUS) - 09/02/2014