CHIASSO, SWITZERLAND: In extraordinary circumstances, Australia have defeated Switzerland 3-1 in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie at the Tennis Club Chiasso.
Australian No. 1 Sam Stosur put in a commanding performance, winning both of her rubbers in straight sets against Swiss players Stefanie Voegele and Romina Oprandi, while 16-year-old Ashleigh Barty justified her late call up to consign Voegele to her second defeat of the day. The Swiss team’s solitary point came from Oprandi’s win over Australian No. 2 Jarmila Gajdosova.
The hosts had come into the weekend hoping to end a 30 year drought against Australia, opponents who had beaten them in the competition as recently as last year. The Australian team, on the other hand, had travelled to southern Switzerland aiming to avoid slipping out of the cup’s top tier, while stretching their record to six wins and one loss against Swiss teams.
In the end, both teams were made to wait as the skies opened up after the draw on Friday afternoon, sending down a deluge that continued throughout Saturday, washing out the clay surface at the 1,000 seat venue and all play for the opening two days of the tie.
With the weekend’s schedule thrown into chaos, and the weather forecast predicting more rain, the drastic decision to play the opening singles rubbers simultaneously on Monday morning was taken, with the reverse singles to commence as soon as possible afterwards.
Once play did get under way, it was world No. 9 Stosur who appeared most keen to make up for lost time, storming to 60 in the first set against Voegele. Despite heavy strapping on her right calf, the 29-year-old Australian moved with vigour across the clay, positioning herself early to dispatch some trademark forehand smashes. On the other side of the net, Swiss number two Voegele was struggling to find any rhythm, her first serve in particular letting her down.
A change in tactics and the support of a small, but enthusiastic local crowd paid dividends for the 23-year-old Swiss in the second set, initially at least. Breaking Stosur twice early, Voegele moved to a 3-0 lead.
Befitting a player of Stosur’s stature, however, the Australian adjusted her own game, targeting Voegele with sharp forehands as she approached the net and combatting the Swiss player’s drop shots with some of her own. Once back on a roll, the next four games quickly went Stosur’s way. Voegele managed to bring it back to 4-4, but it wasn’t enough, the Australian winning the set 64 and the match in just over an hour.
Over on the other side of the venue, Oprandi was also speeding through her encounter with Gajdosova, taking the first set 62 in just under half an hour. Another 33 minutes later and the match was over, the Swiss player closing out the set 64, and with it the rubber, with an audacious drop shot off a first serve.
With the tie at 1-1, Australian captain Alicia Molik then made the surprise announcement that 16-year-old Ashleigh Barty would be facing Voegele in the reverse singles. It turned out to be a masterstroke. Playing in a crucial rubber and in her first year of Fed Cup, the young Australian displayed composure beyond her years, defeating an opponent 139 places in the world above her in straight sets 63 64, again in just over an hour.
“It’s probably some of the best tennis I’ve ever played,” Barty said afterwards.
She certainly wasn’t alone in showing some good form in the second rubber of the day. Having won their first matches comfortably, Stosur and Oprandi were finding things significantly more difficult against each other.
The power shots so successfully employed by the Australian against Voegele in the morning were being countered by some exquisite baseline touches from Oprandi, who at times seemed to have the ball on a string as it looped from her racket and dropped just over the net.
At 6-5 to Stosur and with Oprandi serving, it looked like the first set would progress to a tie break. Unfortunately for the 27-year-old Swiss, however, her serve let her down, double faulting to hand Stosur two break points. She rallied gallantly to bring the game back to deuce, but another double fault gave Stosur a break point she didn’t waste.
The arm wrestle of the first set resumed in the second, with both players breaking the other in the opening two games. Stosur persisted with her tactic of trying to negate Oprandi’s drop shots by keeping the Swiss player pinned behind the baseline.
As the clouds rolled in over Chiasso once more, Stosur’s relentlessness proved too much and she broke Oprandi in the eighth game of the set to go 5-3 up. From there, she served out the set and the rubber, winning the tie for the Australians just as the rain began to tumble from the sky.
The result means that Australia retain their World Group place, an outcome that clearly pleased captain Alicia Molik, who’s in her first year in the role.
“I’m really rapt that we’ve pulled through and won this tie,” she said. “We’ve got a brilliant team and they work for each other. To be honest it’s a real pleasure to be the captain.”
For the Swiss team, the defeat means another year in World Group II. Captain Heinz Guenthardt was clearly disappointed that his team weren’t able to win, but insisted there were positives to be taken from the tie.
“It shows that we can play with a team like Australia,” he said at the completion of play. “We’re a still a tough team to beat because we have a very balanced team and a reasonably young team, so I hope we’ll do even better in the future.”
Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) - 22/04/2013
Ashleigh Barty (AUS) - 22/04/2013
Captain Heinz Guenthardt (SUI) - 22/04/2013
Romina Oprandi (SUI) - 22/04/2013
Sam Stosur (AUS) - 22/04/2013