After a nightmarish start, Anastasia Rodionova’s Fed Cup debut turned into a dream, the 27-year-old recovering to beat Ukrainian No. 1 Alona Bondarenko, 06 63 75.
More expected, Samantha Stosur followed up with a 63 60 defeat of Mariya Koryttseva to give Australia a commanding 2-0 lead after the first day’s play in Kharkiv.
Rodionova makes nervy start
Opening this World Group play-off on serve, Rodionova strode to 40-15 against a player ranked some 70 places higher. But a net cord on game point seemed to puncture the world No. 96’s promising start.
A string of Australian errors helped Bondarenko draw first blood, and two games later she did it again for a 4-0 lead. Rodionova held a game point on her next delivery, but again was unable to convert. Still, the 5-0 scoreline was somewhat misleading.
It could have been 3-2, and although Bondarenko duly captured the set with a swinging backhand volley, the point before had seen Rodionova strike a clean forehand winner on the return – a sign of things to come.
“I was a bit embarrassed in the beginning, making a lot of unforced errors, but Alona started really well and was playing very aggressive,” Rodionova said. “I felt like I was close, but not there yet.”
Game on, as comeback begins
The second set was, indeed, a contest. Rodionova finally made the scoreboard in the second game, by now hitting more freely, especially off her powerful forehand side.
Adding drop shots for good measure, Rodionova was suddenly the dictating player. Bondarenko managed one break but the Australian got two, enough to level at a set apiece.
Rodionova rode the momentum into the third set, breaking in the first game on a double fault. The Australian had chances for a 3-0 lead, and although Bondarenko was a point from 2-2, Rodionova did enough to stay in front for 5-3.
Rodionova serves for match… twice
Brave net play and line-splitting shots helped Bondarenko hold, meaning Rodionova would have to serve for the match. She waivered, saving one break point with a ferocious forehand, but then sending a backhand wide shortly after to let Bondarenko draw level.
The next game went to deuce five times, Aussie winners cancelled out by wayward backhand returns. But when Bondarenko missed a backhand of her own, Rodionova had another chance to serve it out – and this time she barely missed a beat.
Said Rodionova simply of a triumph that was considerable both personally and for the team: “Alona is a really good player, and I am really happy with the result today.”
Stosur rules supreme
The second rubber saw shifting fortunes too, but in a far more clinical way. Ukrainian No. 2 Koryttseva broke Stosur twice for a 3-0 lead in the first set – but would be made to pay the price.
The Australian, coming off a title win on clay in Charleston last week, powered through the next 12 games in a row, with Koryttseva struggling at times to return her heavy serves.
But although Koryttseva held five break points in the final game – a clutch of unforced errors from Stosur marring an otherwise flawless display – the Australian prevailed on her fourth match point.
“I started as I had to start, and Sam wasn’t playing that well, but then she really played like the Top 10 player she is,” said Koryttseva. “We had hoped it would maybe be 1-1 after today, but it will be very tough for us now.”
Aussies pleased with opening day lead
“I took a bit of time to get going,” admitted Stosur. “It was pretty exciting watching Anastasia close her match and perhaps I wasn’t really on the ball yet. But from 3-0 down I started to settle and focus, and played quite well in the end.
“The first time playing for your country isn’t easy – it isn’t easy any time,” Stosur added, in reference to Rodionova’s exploits. “To lose the first seven games in a row and turn it around is fantastic. Obviously all the pressure is on them now but we’ve got to finish it off. I’ll be doing my best against Alona tomorrow.”
“I can’t remember being up 2-0 with this format,” said Australian captain David Taylor, who arrived in town only on Friday. “And to do it away after such an arduous trip to get here… they’ve probably done more than we expected.
“We’ve still got to get to three, but if we do it will be happy days for Australia – we’ve been out of the World Group for too long.”