A pair of slightly unexpected outcomes in the opening singles rubbers put Czech Republic and visiting Germany on level terms in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas first round tie in Brno. With the score 1-1, both teams will head into Sunday’s reverse singles and the potentially decisive doubles confident of progressing to the semifinals, where the winners will meet either defending champion Italy or Ukraine for a berth in the final.
Both better-ranked players on the WTA Tour lost in straight sets and it was Germany’s Anna-Lena Groenefeld who sprung the first upset of the day, when she brushed aside Lucie Safarova 62 62 in just 52 minutes in her hometown to silence a passionate 3,000-strong home crowd. However, Germany’s joy was short-lived as Petra Kvitova redressed the balance with a 64 64 win over Andrea Petkovic and the Czech fans, sporting drums, horns as well as national flags and scarves, were on song once again.
Groenefeld's power too much for Safarova
The physically stronger Groenefeld blew Safarova away with a powerful first serve and a barrage of cross-court forehand winners which kept the Czech pinned back on the wrong foot throughout the one-sided contest. Groenefeld converted all four break points in the match, won 77 percent of the points on her first serve and rifled in nine aces, while winning most of the long rallies and forcing Safarova to commit 14 errors.
She ended the opening set with a pair of aces and romped to a 3-0 lead in the second before Safarova, who had not fully recovered from a cold, found some momentum to hold serve twice and make it 4-2. But Groenefeld, cheered on by her team-mates and captain Barbara Rittner after every point she won, was back to her lethal best in the next two games and it was no surprise that Safarova bowed out with a double fault on her final serve.
Kvitova evens the score
The Germans must have had high hopes of sitting on the cushion of a 2-0 lead after Groenefeld’s win but Fed Cup debutant Andrea Petkovic buckled under pressure, allowing Petra Kvitova to even the score with an outstanding performance which put a smile back on Czech faces.
The left-handed Kvitova served well and tormented Petkovic with a devastating backhand throughout the match, which she swung her way after breaking her opponent’s serve for the first time in the seventh game of the opening set to take a 4-3 lead. Clearly distraught by her rival’s masterstrokes, Petkovic seemed lost after going down 4-0 in the second set but a compassionate team talk with her captain Barbara Rittner brought the best out of her in the next three games. Celebrating every point she won with a clenched fist and loud screams, Petkovic pulled it back to 4-3 but Kvitova held her nerve and serve to set up an enthralling second day on Sunday.
Rittner hopeful of victory
“If someone had offered me beforehand a 1-1 score at the end of the opening day I would have taken it, but we are obviously a little bit disappointed not to be 2-0 ahead after winning the opening singles,” Rittner told a news conference. “We knew it was going to be very tough and we head into Sunday hopeful of winning the tie and booking a semifinal berth,” she said.
Her counterpart Petr Pala said Safarova’s poor performance and physical shape had forced him to start pondering changes in Sunday’s line-up, with Safarova due to meet Petkovic in the opening reverse singles before Groenefeld takes on Kvitova followed by the doubles. “I need to talk to her and see whether she is ready for the challenge, she was uncomfortable out there today and we are going to have a look at the situation,” he said.