STUTTGART, GERMANY: The weekend held so much promise, bringing together one of the strongest teams in the world, Germany, to face off against Australia in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-offs at Stuttgart’s Porsche Arena.
The green and gold team were eager to regain their World Group standing. Germany, meanwhile, were determined to avenge their first round loss to Czech Republic in order to stay in the elite eight-nation World Group for 2013.
Thanks to the Fed Cup format of two singles players, Australian captain David Taylor said he felt they had a good chance for success if things went their way. In other words, if his No. 1 player brought home two points, then their chances would be greatly improved.
Before the matches got under way, Taylor admitted Australia were the underdogs, but he also noted that “sometimes it’s good being the underdog.” Taylor hoped to be at 1-1 by Saturday night. What he got instead was the gift of being at 2-0.
Taylor was respectful of the Germans and the challenge they posed, and he was quick to point out on Friday that few teams in the world had as many top-ranked players as Germany.
Germany’s captain, Barbara Rittner, went into the weekend with big guns, including Angelique Kerber (No. 14) and Julia Goerges (No. 16). Her top-ranked player, the bubbly Andrea Petkovic (No. 11), was benched for the singles owing to her three-month injury time, giving her other two players a chance to shine. “[Goerges and Kerber] deserve to play. They are in the match rhythm,” Rittner said on Friday.
Whilst Rittner had a few big guns, Australia had a cannon: Samantha Stosur, ranked fifth in the world.
By the end of play on Saturday, the two-person format seemed to be working in Australia’s favour. Stosur defeated a spirited Angelique Kerber in straight sets, and Jarmila Gajdosova (No. 50) did her country proud by dismissing the higher-ranked Goerges, who admitted to not feeling 100 per cent.
Taylor was very pleased that Gajdosova clinched the second point, playing so well against a Top 20 player.
Everyone wondered what Rittner would do with Sunday’s line-up with Germany down two. Would she bring out her own cannon to face off with Stosur in the third rubber?
On Sunday, we got our answer as Andrea Petkovic hit the clay in her comeback match, having been sidelined for three months by injury.
She took to the court with Germany down by two, and with the stands full of roaring fans. Petkovic noted afterwards that she would have preferred a less stressful return to competition, but that she was thrilled to be playing Fed Cup for Germany.
“I really enjoyed the support, but I definitely felt the pressure,” she said.
Petkovic played a solid first set against Stosur, losing it 6-4, but she fell easily in the second, 6-1.
The final matches of the weekend, the fourth and fifth rubbers, were dead ones, but the teams played their all, and the fans stuck around for some more spirited exchanges. Angelique Kerber dismissed Australian rookie Olivia Rogowska (No. 123) in two sets, 63 63.
Petkovic then had a chance to redeem herself alongside Goerges, against Australia’s doubles team of Casey Dellacqua (No. 106) and Gajdosova. The Germans stormed past their Aussie counterparts, winning the match in two sets 63 64. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who had been expected to play doubles for Germany, broke her little toe the night before, so Goerges stepped in.
Rittner was obviously disappointed by the weekend’s results. “It was 2-3, but it was 0-3 after the first three singles and we didn't even win a single set, which means the Australian team was just the better team and they deserved to win.”
She felt that Petkovic played well, but that Stosur played to her ranking. “I think [Petkovic] played a good match, but Sam was just a little bit better on the important points.”
When asked how and when the team would begin to regroup for 2013, Rittner said she would get started immediately. “We start regrouping today. We are going to have dinner together... and I will speak with my whole team and say a few words regarding this week and next year.”
Despite the disappointment of being relegated, Rittner took a few moments at the end of play on Sunday to address the German fans. The stands remained full to the end of the fifth rubber, despite the tie having been decided earlier.
“The atmosphere [in Stuttgart] is great. I hope we can come back one day and play a semifinal or final here,” Rittner said afterwards.
David Taylor, meanwhile, was beaming over his team’s secured standing in the World Group for next year.
“It's a great feeling to be amongst that eight. With that format, it's such an elite thing to be in the top eight.”
He was thrilled by the performances of both his No. 1 and No. 2 players. Gajdosova’s win on Saturday really took the pressure off, and Stosur played her top tennis.
“[Sam] is five in the world, and she played to that ranking. That's not always easy to do,” Taylor acknowledged.
Looking ahead to 2013, Taylor wants to focus on his team’s depth by encouraging the ladies to build on their individual rankings as well as the partnership between Stosur and Casey Dellacqua for doubles.
In the short-term, Taylor said there would be some celebration time for his team. With next year’s World Group standing assured, the green and gold team have certainly earned a night out on the town. Germany, meanwhile, will lick their wounds and plan how to fight their way back into the top eight for 2014.
Captain David Taylor (AUS) - 22/04/12
Captain Barbara Rittner (GER) - 22/04/12