Czech Republic have reached their first Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final since 1988 and the first one on their own right after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The talented current generation of Czech players had already given signs of their potential by reaching the semifinals two years in a row, but this year the team were brought to the next level by one of the new rising stars of world tennis: Petra Kvitova.
World Group first round
Slovak Republic 2-3 Czech Republic, Bratislava
The 2011 Czech Fed Cup campaign started in the country they used to share a state with, Slovak Republic. The two neighbour nations had already met three times in the competition, resulting in three victories for the Czechs. However, the Slovaks, led by Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova, seemed competitive enough to change this negative record.
Czech No. 2 Lucie Safarova started the tie in style by beating Slovak No. 1 Hantuchova 75 61. The locals put their hopes on their No. 2 player Cibulkova to level the score against Kvitova, who had just completed an excellent Australian campaign that saw her reach the Top 20 for the first time in her career. But Kvitova proved to be too powerful for Cibulkova and earned the second point 63 62 to create a 2-0 lead for her country.
Day two started with Czech Republic in almost total control of the tie and the Slovaks needing to win the remaining three rubbers to stay in the match. After her solid performance on day one, Kvitova returned to the court for the reverse singles against Hantuchova and continued her imperious form, taking the first set 64 to the delight of her teammates. The young Czech kept her serve steadily flawless and took the second set and the match with an ace down the middle of the court that left the overall score at 64 62 and put her country into the semifinals.
“Her level of play was unbelievable,” said a shell-shocked Hantuchova after her comprehensive loss in the decisive reverse singles match on Sunday. “She’s just brave - she plays like she has no pressures, swinging at every shot. And at the moment, everything’s going in. I think it’s just a matter of time before she cracks the Top 10.”
Slovak Republic reacted in the following rubber with a victory for Fed Cup debutante Jana Cepelova over Safarova, courtesy of an injury to the Czech player with the score at 46 76(5). Cepelova also partnered with Magdalena Rykarikova to beat the Czech pair Kveta Peschke and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 61 46 76(4) in the closing doubles match. These two victories left the overall score at 3-2 for the visitors.
Cepelova was very happy after the tie despite the elimination: “I feel amazing – I can’t believe it,” said the young Slovak. “I’ve never played a Top 30 player before… I’m used to playing the juniors!”
World Group semifinals
Belgium 2-3 Czech Republic, Charleroi
Czech Republic arrived in Belgium to compete in their third consecutive Fed Cup semifinal. The team had lost the two previous ones and were determined to finally go one step further and reach the much coveted final.
The young Czech leader Kvitova was tasked with getting her country off to a winning start against Belgium’s No. 2 Kirsten Flipkens. The soon-to-be Wimbledon champion took the first set very quickly 62 but Belgium’s No. 2 Flipkens raised her game in the second set, taking it to a tie break in which Kvitova showed her class once more to leave an overall score of 62 76(4).
Flipkens admitted after the match: “At the beginning it was not easy as I’m not used to playing against a Top 20 player every week, so it was a big challenge. In the first set I was still finding my game, but was much more aggressive in the second set.”
For Kvitova it was clear that, despite the straight sets win, the match had been difficult: “I was nervous all match so it was tough for me. I had a good start but she played better and better.”
The absence of Kim Clijsters gave all the responsibility for keeping Belgium in the fight to Yanina Wickmayer, who took to the court in the second rubber to face Zahlavova Strycova. The difference in ranking between the two players was significant, but Czech Republic’s No. 2 made her opponent sweat for the victory.
Zahlavova Strycova enjoyed a break in the first set, but Wickmayer reacted and broke the Czech twice to snatch it 64. The last game of the match, that was won by Wickmayer giving her a 64 64 victory, was a back-and-forth of deuces and advantages that showcased the die-hard attitude of Zahlavova Strycova.
Wickmayer had words of praise for her opponent: “They were two tough sets. She’s a tough opponent and it was a fight from the beginning to the end.”
On day two, the countries’ top players collided in the reverse singles and it was Wickmayer who struck first by winning the first set. But Kvitova showed her determination by levelling the match at one set apiece and outplayed her rival in the third to take the second point for the Czechs with a 57 64 62 victory. Czech Republic’s No. 1 player later declared that her performance against Wickmayer had been her best in Fed Cup so far.
Belgium was only one point short of elimination and Kirsten Flipkens had all the pressure on her shoulders to keep her country alive until the fifth rubber. The Belgian was up to the challenge, completely dominating the match and achieving a quick 62 63 victory over Zahlavova Strycova.
The 2-2 score line meant that the tie would be settled in the deciding fifth rubber and the doubles took to the court with a very intense atmosphere in Charleroi. The first set’s fortunes were decided by a solitary break as the Czechs (Iveta Benesova and Zahlavova Strycova) took an early lead over the Belgians (Flipkens and Wickmayer). The second set followed suit and the Czech pair triumphed 64 64 to secure the precious place in the final.
For Benesova, this was a sweet moment: “I’m not going to lie, it was in my mind the two semifinals that we lost before. This time, though, I just knew we were going to win. I’m so excited.”
Zahlavova added: “Everything was in my head. The lows of losing to Kirsten, and then this high. This is the best feeling. It’s a great achievement for Czech Republic and for the whole team. We’ve worked so hard for this victory.”