NOVI SAD, SERBIA: A Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II tie between Serbia and Canada turned out to be an absorbing classic, worthy of a top-tier contest, as it went down to the wire in Novi Sad’s SPENS Arena on Sunday.
The Serbians, who were missing their top two players Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic through fatigue, came out on top 3-2 after defying the odds to win the decisive fifth rubber. Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic beat Marie-Eve Pelletier and Sharon Fichman 76(5) 64 to send 2,000 noisy home fans into raptures.
Jovanovski, deputizing as Serbia’s No. 1 player, had given Serbia a 2-1 lead after a 76(3) 63 win over Rebecca Marino in the day’s opening reverse singles, while Aleksandra Wozniak blew away Ana Jovanovic to level the score. Doubles specialists Fichman and Pelletier were odds-on favourites to swing the tie Canada’s way, but Jovanovski and 17-year old Krunic produced an inspired performance to send Serbia into the World Group play-offs.
Having crashed out of the elite last year with successive 3-2 home defeats to Russia and Slovak Republic, after losing both ties in the fifth rubber, the Serbs will be buoyed by breaking the jinx and giving themselves a chance of climbing back into the World Group.
Jovanovski traded breaks with the towering Marino in the opening set and dominated a one-sided tiebreak before she fought back from a 2-0 deficit in the second to wrap up the match in 1 hour 23 minutes. Showing a lot of maturity for a 19-year-old, Jovanovski won a whopping 22 of 23 points on her second serve to cancel out seven aces by Marino, who had as many double faults and also hit 33 unforced errors.
Any hopes that Jovanovski had to put Serbia in the driving seat to win the tie were dashed in the other reverse singles, when Wozniak raced through the opening set without dropping a game against a bewildered Jovanovic. The 26-year old Serbian, whose most notable achievement was beating current world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in a lower-tier tie against Denmark in Turkey in 2005, rediscovered her old touch in the opening half of the second set, when she broke Wozniak to take a 3-0 lead. But Canada’s former world No. 21, who dropped out of the top 100 after a five-month absence through injury, recovered and stepped up a gear to win the next five games and take the match in just 1 hour 13 minutes, forcing the tie into an absorbing fifth rubber.
Jovanovski and Krunic, ranked No. 803 and No. 368 respectively in the doubles on the WTA tour, appeared to be cruising in the first set after breaking serve twice to take a 5-1 lead, but the more experienced Canadian duo quickly regained their composure and hit back to lead 6-5 before the home team held their serve to force a tiebreak. A stinging forehand winner followed by a volley by Krunic gave Serbia a 4-1 advantage and she followed up with a fierce backhand to clinch a nerve-wracking opening set for the hosts after 1 hour two minutes of play.
Producing big shots when she needed to most, Krunic lit up the SPENS Arena to give Serbia a 4-3 lead in the second set after they trailed 2-0 to their more experienced Canadian rivals. The next two games went with serve before Krunic earned a double match point with a backhand winner through the middle and took the second with a ferocious forehand which Fichman could only volley into the net. Draping themselves in a Serbian flag after the rip-roaring finale and carrying it on a lap of honour around the court, the home team celebrated to a standing ovation from their fans and the “Eye of The Tiger” chartbuster from the sound system.
“This tie will forever stay in my memory and I want to thank these fans for their incredible support and to Bojana for finding the strength to steer us through the doubles after winning the opening reverse singles,” a delighted Krunic said in an on-court interview. “We are so delighted to have finally won a doubles for Serbia and I hope there will be more success to come for us in the competition.”
The Belgrade Arena has been an impregnable fortress for Serbia in the Davis Cup, where the 2010 champions have a 5-0 record, while the SPENS sports centre may become just that for the Serbian Fed Cup by BNP Paribas team, after the venue staged its maiden tennis event.