'S-HERTOGENBOSCH, NETHERLANDS: Japan and Netherlands are honours even after the first day of play in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie.
Dutch No. 1 Kiki Bertens beat Misaki Doi 60 76 in an entertaining match to level the scores after Kurumi Nara ground down Dutch No. 2 Arantxa Rus 75 26 61.
“Fifty-fifty,” is how Bertens now assesses the teams’ chances for the decisive Sunday. She will play the day’s first rubber against Nara, whose playing style she had been able to observe closely from the bench.
“She’s tough and patient and depends on her opponent to make errors, which I find nasty to play against,” said Bertens. “I’ll have to play my own game, to be aggressive from the baseline, and not let myself get frustrated by errors that will surely come.”
But Bertens is looking forward to tomorrow even though the pressure is definitely on her this weekend. “Five years or so ago that would have caused me to run off court crying. But I now take yoga classes and do breathing exercises to keep my cool. I think it works. Most of the time, anyway,” she said self-mockingly.
In the first set there certainly was no sign of what Bertens calls her ‘negative emotions’. There was no need – she hit powerful drive after powerful drive and raced through the first set 60.
In the second, there were some Bertens screams to be heard as she failed to take several opportunities to break the Doi serve. And when Doi took the long game at 2-2 – including 17 deuces – she also seemed to take the initiative. But Bertens played a strong tiebreak (7-3) against the run of play to take the set and match.
The day’s first rubber between Rus and Nara was a classic case of attack versus defence. Rus attacked, or tried to attack, while Nara didn’t do much more than keep the ball in play and try to coax Rus into making errors.
Initially, Rus seemed to have all the tools to make light work of her seemingly limited opponent. She went up 2-0 and 3-1 by serving powerfully and forcing errors out of Nara. But the Japanese soon found her stead and kept returning Rus’ drives while occasionally going for a winner to prevent her from being too predictable. It won her the first set 75.
Rus found Nara as tough as she had expected. “She’s like a moving wall,” said Rus. “You have to keep a fine balance between aggression and patience and not get annoyed by the errors.”
In the second set Rus managed to keep the pressure on Nara, taking the set 62, and a simple victory looked a distinct possibility. After a toilet break, however, Nara returned on court a different player. Unlike her usual ‘silent assassin’ style, she went out and tried to get the points herself.
“I stepped into the court and put pressure on [Rus],” Nara said. “I needed to change something.” Suddenly there was a flurry of winners, near-winners, and pumped fists from Nara.
The hundred or so Japanese fans in the crowd noticed and handsomely out-cheered the six-hundred or so Dutch. “It was almost like playing at home,” a surprised Nara said. She never looked back and took the set 61 in a style that promises an interesting match against Bertens on Sunday.
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Kiki Bertens (NED) - 19/04/2014
Kurumi Nara (JPN) - 19/04/2014
Arantxa Rus (NED) - 19/04/2014