KOPER, SLOVENIA: Slovenia and Canada are tied after the first day of their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off tie in Koper following straight-set wins by both top players.
Rebecca Marino gave Canada the lead with a 63 75 victory over Masa Zec Peskiric, but this was quickly erased by Slovenia's No. 1, Polona Hercog, who was dominant in a 60 64 victory over 17-year-old Eugenie Bouchard.
The 20-year-old Marino, who at 61st in the world is the top-ranked player in the tie, was a clear favourite against Zec Peskiric, the world No. 157, but the only question was whether she would be able to assert her advantages on the clay surface.
The Canadian quickly dispelled any doubts, however, as she gained the upper hand with her big serve in a patchy start to the tie that provided few long exchanges.
Leading 5-1 and holding set point, it looked like Marino would run away with the match, before Zec Peskiric finally found her range in the windy conditions to save the point and go on to break the Canadian.
While Marino claimed the first set on her next service game, Zec Peskiric would carry over her improved play into the second, in which she was a much more worthy opponent.
Indeed, the Slovenian had good opportunities to pull away in key games on the Canadian’s serve, but Marino always managed to get out of trouble with big serves. None more so than at 4-3 when Zec Peskiric held a break point and Marino pulled out three of the best serves of the day to save the game.
The missed opportunity seemed to hurt Zec Peskiric's confidence and she was no longer as aggressive. This would prove costly in the 11th game, when Marino managed to take the only break of the second set to go up 6-5. She closed out the match on her serve after 1 hour 46 minutes of play.
“The longer I’m playing on the clay, the more comfortable I am with my footwork and my shots,” said Marino, who said she was satisfied that she was able to serve well when it mattered the most.
The second match would follow much the same script as the first, as the higher ranked Hercog quickly pulled away against the Canadian teenager.
Bouchard, playing her first match in the Fed Cup, seemed to struggle with the wind on her serve, and Hercog would make matters even more difficult for her by mixing powerful baseline shots with masterful drop shots. Giving away just 13 points, the world No. 68 took the first set in 28 minutes.
Bouchard, who is ranked 372nd in the world, would avoid a total walloping in the second set, winning her first game for 1-1 and then producing a break as Hercog's concentration slipped.
But the 20-year-old Slovenian was not going to make it any more difficult for herself than that, as she broke back for 3-3 and then took another break for 5-4, before closing out the match on her service in 1 hour 14 minutes.
“The conditions were very difficult and I think I used them much better than my opponent,” Hercog said after the match. “I was focused through almost the whole match except those few games in the second set. I can say that I’m pretty happy with my performance today.”
Canada captain Sylvain Bruneau was not willing to say after day one whether he would go for a more experienced second player in the reverse singles on Sunday. He had opted to open with the inexperienced Bouchard because of her recent good form on clay.
The highest-ranked Canadian behind Marino is Stephanie Dubois, who at 150th in the world is ranked ahead of Zec Peskiric.
Slovenian captain Iztok Bozic was meanwhile happy with what he saw on day one, including Zec Peskiric’s play in the second set. “If our players play the way they know, we are set for day two,” said Bozic, who was full of praise for Hercog: “She played like a machine.”
Captain Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) - 16/04/2011
Polona Hercog (SLO) - 16/04/2011
Rebecca Marino (CAN) - 16/04/2011