BERN, SWITZERLAND: Fed Cup debutante Romina Oprandi proved the toast of Swiss tennis in Bern on Saturday when she delivered a high quality performance to keep the hosts in their 2013 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie with visitors Belgium.
After Yanina Wickmayer had beaten Stefanie Voegele 6-1 4-6 8-6 to give the Belgians an early lead, world No.67 Oprandi completely outclassed the higher-ranked and in-form Kirsten Flipkens 6-3 6-3 in what was her first ever Fed Cup performance - and in front of her hometown fans too, who gave the 26-year-old a rousing reception throughout.
It had been Flipkens who had gone into the match as favourite. The world No.34 has been enjoying the tennis of her life recently, a run of form that featured a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open. That achievement counted for little on Bern’s indoor clay, however.
Oprandi, who represented Italy on tour until January 2012, broke early in the first set and looked completely at ease in her new role as flagbearer for Swiss women’s tennis. Two breaks were enough to wrap up the opener, and despite Flipkens building a 2-0 lead in the second, Oprandi responded by rattling off five successive games to put the match beyond her opponent’s reach.
“I’m pretty satisfied with how I played today,” said Oprandi. “In the beginning I was a bit tight because I saw so many people I’ve known out there for years so I really tried to play good. But it was so exciting. The ambience and all the support meant it felt like a football match out there.”
Earlier, Wickmayer had provided the visitors with the perfect start to the weekend thanks to a hard-fought victory after being two points from defeat at one stage against Voegele, a player ranked 67 places below her.
The two-hour, five-minute contest was a perfect example of the unpredictability of Fed Cup tennis. World No.22 Wickmayer was in complete control until early in the second set when Voegele began to be rewarded for cutting out the enforced errors that had bothered her early on.
After deservedly snatching the second set 6-4, Voegele had all the momentum and looked the more emotionally settled and a more likely winner throughout most of the deciding set.
She let slip three break points with Wickmayer serving at 0-1 0-40, and after a succession of routine service games was just two points from a surprise victory when the Belgian found herself trailing 5-6 15-30. But Wickmayer dug deep and displayed some impressive spirit when she most needed it. She clung on to hold for 6-6, pounced to break to love and promptly served out the match.
“From 2-1 in the second set, she started playing a lot more aggressive and I was really challenged,” Wickmayer admitted afterwards. “Maybe if she’d broken me at 1-0 in the third set it would have gone the other way, but I stayed strong.”
After an eventful first day, there were mixed emotions for both captains with the hosts’ Heinz Guenthardt admitting there was a little disappointment after coming so close to a 2-0 advantage.
“Steffi [Voegele] is a girl who can play against anyone because she can take a lot of pace,” Guenthardt said. “If she’d had a little bit more belief - it’s just a question of winning some of these tight matches - maybe she’d have pulled this one out and maybe in the future she will pull many more more out because she has been very close in many big matches and she simply hasn’t won enough yet.
“Romina played extremely well. The way she put the shots together was perfect clay court tennis.”
As for Belgium's captain Anne Devries, it was more a sense of relief to have clinched a point.
“It was a tough day,” she reflected. “If you look at it now the first match could have gone the other way and in the second match Kirsten didn’t really have any chances. I should be happy that it’s 1-1.”
Sunday’s singles will see Oprandi go up against Wickmayer before Voegele faces Flipkens. The Swiss team of Timea Bacsinszky and Amra Sadikovic will play Ysaline Bonaventure and Alison Van Uytvanck in the doubles, the fifth and final rubber of the tie.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Heinz Guendhardt (SUI)
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) - 09/02/2013
Captain Ann Devries (BEL) - 09/02/2013