Fed Cup debutante Lucie Hradecka emerged as the hero in the Czech Republic’s 3-2 win over Germany in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie, and received a deserved standing ovation from an appreciative home crowd after a rip-roaring two-day contest in Brno.
Hradecka, who replaced Lucie Safarova in Sunday’s opening reverse singles and beat Andrea Petkovic 61 76 to give the home team a 2-1 lead, then teamed up with Kveta Peschke in the doubles after Anna-Lena Groenefeld had beaten Petra Kvitova 46 63 62 to put the Germans on level terms.
Hradecka and Peschke, a doubles specialist whose experience was a telling factor in the decisive match-up of the rollercoaster in Brno’s Exhibition Centre, beat Groenefeld and Tatjana Malek 63 62 to send the Czechs through to their second successive semifinal, where they will face defending champion Italy.
”An amazing weekend” – Hradecka
Standing in for the ailing Safarova, Hradecka produced a perfect opening set against Petkovic and capped it with an ace against her hapless opponent, who kept over-hitting her baseline shots as she struggled to cope with the Czech’s punishing groundstrokes.
Petkovic improved in the second set, broke her opponent in the second game but then missed a golden opportunity to take a 3-0 lead, smashing an easy net point beyond the baseline on her own serve. Games went with serve and Hradecka again came back from 2-0 down in the tiebreak to delight the noisy 3,000 home fans and complete her fairytale maiden appearance for her country as Petkovic broke down into tears.
“It’s been an amazing weekend and I have to thank my team for the confidence they had in me, as well as the fantastic fans who carried us to victory,” Hradecka said at the end of an absorbing clash with the Germans.
Petkovic distraught by loss
Petkovic, on the other hand, barely held back the tears at the post-match press conference. “I put too much pressure on myself and like yesterday, I was too nervous and not focused enough when the going got tough. Hradecka played the crucial points really well and I will learn a lot from what has been a very disappointing weekend for me,” Petkovic said after losing both her singles. “I feel like I let the team down and I was never able to find my rhythm in either match,” she added.
It seemed the Czechs would seal their victory before the doubles after Kvitova fought back from two games down to win the opening set against Groenefeld in the fourth rubber, but the plucky German responded magnificently to turn the match on its head, having made her rival move along the baseline constantly with powerful and accurate crosscourt shots.
“She’s had a fantastic personal weekend and I have to take my hat off to her, her overall performance is the most positive thing we will take from what has been a tough and heart-breaking weekend,” German team captain Barbara Rittner said. “Andrea, on the other hand, must learn to control her emotions and not get distraught so easily,” she added.
Czech Republic to take on Italy
But even Groenefeld, who won both her singles rubbers, was powerless to stop the 34-year-old Peschke and Hradecka from swinging the tie Czech Republic’s way in a one-sided doubles contest. Groenefeld looked expectably weary, having had to return to action barely half an hour after beating Kvitova, but it was Malek who left the German challenge in tatters with a sub-standard performance.
Having been blown away in the opening set, the German duo staged a brief fightback when they took a 2-0 lead in the second but surrendered tamely after Groenefeld double-faulted to hand the Czechs a 4-2 lead.
“The Czech doubles were a bit too strong for us and what we have to do is build a stronger doubles in the future,” Rittner said.
Czech team captain Petr Lala was delighted and looking forward to facing Italy for a berth in the final. “We will be the underdogs in that tie because they have an experienced team which has won many tough matches at home and away, but our young team keeps improving and will go there hoping to pull off an upset,” he said. “I am delighted for Hradecka, who has had an outstanding day in her Fed Cup debut.”