Estonia planted one foot firmly in the World Group play-offs of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas like a team who have seen it all before rather than newcomers to such heady heights, as they took a 2-0 lead against a weakened Argentina team in their World Group II tie in Tallinn.
Without their No. 1 Gisela Dulko, there was never much chance of Argentina springing a surprise, but at least they can take consolation from the fact that this tie may have seen the birth of a new star in 17-year-old Paula Ormaechea, who gave the vastly more experienced, former French Open quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi a nasty fright or two before losing 61 75 at the Tere Sport Tennis Club.
The magnitude of Ormaechea’s achievement cannot be understated. This was her first singles rubber in Fed Cup competition and first competitive match indoors, but after being brushed aside in the opening set the diminutive Argentinean matched the powerful Estonian No. 1 shot for shot in a fascinating second set which she almost took to a tie-break.
Ormaechea impresses opposition
Even Kanepi - whom the Argentinean captain Tito Vasquez likened to Arnold Schwarzenegger in terms of physique - was impressed by the quality of her two-fisted backhand. “She has potential on clay and why not hard court, too?” she asked.
It was obvious from the very start, when Ormaechea fought off three break points to hold serve, that she was not about to allow herself to fall victim to nerves, as her team-mate Maria Irigoyen had done in the opening rubber when losing 61 62 to Maret Ani.
It was hardly surprising that she remarked: “I thought it would be even tougher.”
Kanepi fights to recover past form
Of course, she had nothing to lose - unlike Kanepi, who is trying to get her game back to the level it was last year when she rose to 18 in the world, and even the year before that when she reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
This was a girl who rose to No. 1 in the world as a junior, winning the 2001 junior French Open and beating Dinara Safina en route and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final. Losing to a girl 369 places behind her in the rankings was not an option.
Had it not been for her service, though, she might have been in trouble because an unforced error count of 41-25 is usually a recipe for defeat. In mitigation, Kanepi was hampered a little by a hip injury and, mindful that she will be required for the reverse singles, was encouraged to go for her shots.
“She served too well,” said Ormaechea. “I had just one chance to break her in the whole match. That’s the difference I found. At this level, when they have a chance they take it – not like I do.”
Ormaechea to face Ani in reverse singles
Most would agree she took her chance with both hands and after such a performance became a certain starter against Ani in the second of the reverse singles rubbers, although by then the tie could be lost to Argentina. Aranza Salut will take Irigoyen’s place against Kanepi.
The opening rubber represented Argentina’s best, if not only, chance of making a match of it since there was not a great disparity in the rankings of Maret Ani and Maria Irigoyen. However, it did not turn out that way because Ani was quickly out of the blocks and on her way to the finishing line almost before Irigoyen had realized what was happening.
The Argentinean briefly threatened to make a game of it when she rallied from 0-3 to 2-3 but the impetus evaporated as quickly and as unexpectedly as it had arrived.