LLEIDA, FRANCE: Miguel Margets and Nicolas Escude both took calculated risks on Friday, promoting lower ranked players into the No. 2 singles slot for this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off. By the end of Saturday, neither team captain had been rewarded for their tactics, but with the Spanish and French No. 1s delivering the goods, the teams head into day two poised at 1-1.
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez got the hosts off to a flying start, her all-too-rare commitment to serve-and-volley – even on clay – never really allowing Virginie Razzano a chance to settle. “She’s a special player,” Spanish captain Miguel Margets would later observe of the world No. 33, and based on the evidence, no one at the Club de Tenis Lleida would disagree.
Using drop shots to great effect and working all angles of the court, the Spaniard made her first breakthrough in the fifth game, and served her way out of trouble to consolidate for 4-2. Razzano held two game points in the next game, only for her opponent to break again; down 5-2, the Frenchwoman finally found herself with a break point, but Martinez Sanchez fought it off and sealed the opener with a classic lefty’s serve to the backhand.
“In the first set I just couldn’t play,” said Razzano. “She has so much variety, mixes up the balls. I played better in the second set, but she was just about perfect today – and had some luck as well.”
Indeed, while momentum stayed with Martinez Sanchez – she broke Razzano to love in the first game of the second set – Razzano issued warning it wasn’t over yet. Trailing 2-0, the world No. 102 saved three break points to get on the scoreboard, and kept her returns low to draw level at 2-2.
Alas, for the visitors this proved to be the beginning of the end. What had all the makings of a match-turning point in the next game – Razzano retrieved two Spanish smashes to send a lunging forehand winner down the line – proved to be a temporary cause for joy. Yet another drop shot by Martinez Sanchez moved her to 3-2. Razzano rallied, so it proved to be the last break of the match, but it was enough for Martinez Sanchez to hold on for the win, 62 64.
“I was really quiet, and focused on my game, and when I’m like this I can show my best play,” said Martinez Sanchez, who has now won five singles rubbers on the trot. “I’m very happy with how the match went.”
The second rubber between Anabel Medina Garrigues and Aravane Rezai was much tighter, Medina’s classic topspin counter-punching a perfect foil to Rezai’s flat-hitting and take-no-prisoners style.
While Rezai made the pivotal breakthrough to pocket the first set 7-5, the magic evaporated as Medina Garrigues won eight straight points for a 2-0 lead in the second. However, Rezai regrouped to keep things on serve, and when she had an opportunity to draw level at 4-4 pounced on it with a forehand winner.
Now it was the Spaniard’s turn to dig deep. Serving at 4-5, she was two points from defeat. But the 28-year-old held on, and after the players exchanged breaks, came out on top of the resulting tiebreak.
To her credit, Rezai didn’t crumble at the lost opportunity: Instead, she raced to 4-0 in the decider. Medina Garrigues would later rue a point held for 1-1, because although she retrieved one of the breaks, the Frenchwoman prevailed with an emphatic smash, 75 67(4) 62.
“I’m proud of myself – it was a tough match with a lot of fight,” said Rezai of her morale-boosting victory, her second in three Fed Cup outings. “For me it was very important for me to win that match, personally and professionally. I loved it, and I hope I can continue like this.”
Even so, the world No. 24 would not be drawn on whether she will be playing the first reverse singles against Martinez Sanchez on Sunday; neither would Escude. Margets was similarly coy on the situation in the Spanish camp. He will wait to see how Medina Garrigues is feeling before deciding whether to bring in Lourdes Dominguez Lino to face Razzano or Alize Cornet in the fourth rubber.
Watch the tie live on: FedCup.tv
Aravane Rezai (FRA) - 16/04/2011
Captain Margets (ESP) - 16/04/2011
Virginie Razzano (FRA) - 16/04/2011
Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) - 16/04/2011
Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario - 16/04/2011
Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (ESP) - 16/04/2011