KOPER, SLOVENIA: Slovenia will get another shot at Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II next year after securing the narrowest of wins against Canada in Koper. The doubles pairing of Katarina Srebotnik and Polona Hercog delivered the crucial third point for the home team with a 76(5) 62 win against Rebecca Marino and Sharon Fichman.
A doubles decider was a fitting end to a play-off tie that could not have been more even on paper. Not least because it gave Srebotnik a chance to shine in her new role as the doubles specialist after many years of leading the Slovenian charge in the singles.
Indeed, the second day of action in Koper produced quite a few heroes. The dramatic finish was set up by Canada's prospect Eugenie Bouchard, who was playing in her first Fed Cup tie. The 17-year-old “Genie” - as she is called by her teammates - showed some magic by thumping Masa Zec Peskiric 64 61 in the second reverse singles rubber to pull things level.
This was after Hercog lifted Slovenia into the lead for the first time in the tie by outlasting Marino in a three-set thriller, 57 62 86, between the two No. 1s. The 20-year-old contributed all three points to Slovenia’s winning effort in the end.
Slovenia captain Iztok Bozic gave a special mention to Hercog after the tie. “We saw some great matches, especially the first match today by Polona. It was a great match, probably of the highest quality possible on clay courts,” he said.
Hercog was forced to battle from a set down after Marino claimed a see-sawing affair in the first. Sticking to her pre-match promise of “fighting like a tiger”, the world No. 68, who is ranked seven places below Marino, came out aggressively in the second, breaking the Canadian twice in a row in the beginning and did not let the Canadian back in.
The third set mirrored the first, only that it was the Slovenian who prevailed in crucial points. At 4-5 and 30-all, she produced consecutive forehand winners on the line to keep the match alive. Her boldness paid off in the 13th game of the set, when she finally found a crack in Marino’s serve to claim the key break.
“Sometimes you just have to let your shots go…I just went for it and there was a lit bit of luck involved, but it worked out well for me,” Hercog said of her big winners. “I’m very happy with this win, it will give me a lot of confidence and shows that my play is improving.”
The win buoyed the home crowd, which was now looking for Zec Peskiric to close things out against Bouchard. But it was not to be, as the Canadian teenager showed the composure of a veteran to battle against the pressure of knowing she had to win to keep Canada in the hunt.
With both players having trouble keeping their service games, it was Bouchard who would take the upper hand in the ninth game of the first set by keeping serve for the 5-4 lead. She then broke Zec Peskiric for the third time in the set to go up 1-0.
The Slovenian, who at No. 158 is more that 200 places above Bouchard in the world rankings, never recovered after that as the Canadian kept up the pressure. Bouchard lost only one game in the second to close out the match in one hour 24 minutes.
But her efforts would not be enough for Canada in the end, as Slovenia lived up to its better credentials in the doubles to secure the win.
Playing with Srebotnik, one of the world’s best doubles players, and the confident Hercog, Slovenia managed to overcome the never-say-die attitude of the Canadians in blustery conditions. But this was only after a minor scare in the first set, when they fell to 5-3 after a Canadian break.
“We had many chances to break them in the first set, but didn’t use them. We ended up going down 5-3, but we did not worry about that too much,” said a smiling Srebotnik, who retired from singles play before the start of this season.
For Bozic the match was a little harder to watch: “We saw a very tough doubles match. We had many chances in the first break, but we had to take it in the tiebreak. Luckily, it was a bit easier for us in the second set.”
“I’m very satisfied that we made, that we achieved our main goal – to stay in World Group II,” said Bozic, who added that his first priority now is “to get some rest”.
On the other side, Canada captain Sylvain Bruneau put on a brave face after the second 3-2 loss for his team this season, highlighting the strong showings from Marino as well as the talent of Bouchard as positive signs going forward. “It is encouraging that we have a young team and I think the future is promising for us.”
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) - 17/04/11
Polona Hercog (SLO) - 17/04/11
Polona Hercog and Katarina Srebotnik (SLO) - 17/04/11
Captain Iztok Bozik (SLO) - 17/04/11
Captain Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) - 17/04/11