Israeli No. 2 player Julia Glushko turned out to be the surprise attraction on the opening day of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 event in Eilat, Israel on Wednesday.
Glushko started her team off on a 3-0 victory over Luxembourg by registering her very first live singles rubber win in the competition at home, beating the experienced Anne Kremer of Luxembourg 61 57 60.
The world No. 205 finally proved to the home crowd that she is a worthy representative for her country in the most important women's team tennis competition, surprising even herself against a veteran of Kremer's standing.
The 21-year-old beat Kremer, 14 years her senior, with some ferocious baseline hitting but as a player who can't help going for winners, Glushko can, and often has, been undone by her own high error count.
On Wednesday, the Israeli held her nerve and upped her percentages with some excellent powerful rallies from the baseline, while Kremer was largely caught on the defensive.
Glushko raced to a 4-1 lead in the first set and sealed it quickly. The second set opened in reverse, with Kremer's experience forcing the errors from Glushko, as she plugged away, running the young Israeli from side to side as the player from Luxembourg raced to a 4-0 lead. But just when the crowd feared that Glushko's game was collapsing for good, she hit back to level at 5-5, only to then lose the set 7-5.
The crowd, who by evening feared the fairytale was over, also had to brave a cold breeze in the remote southern city that is better known for delivering non-stop baking-hot sunshine.
Glushko's revival was as unexpected as the cold, as she didn't give Kremer a chance in the final set, reeling off six straight games and drawing huge applause from a crowd that has seen a first live rubber win by the Israeli number two player. It’s a result that surely established her credentials and ability to deliver against opponents with whom she is evenly matched.
"It is an amazing feeling, there is nothing quite like it, I am really pleased but I have to stay focussed for the rest of the week," Glushko said. "The last few months have been really positive for me, I have improved a lot... playing at home it is amazing with the crowd... Fed Cup and playing for your country, it is an amazing feeling.”
Shahar Peer then secured the tie victory with a straightforward 63 63 win over Mandy Minella and the two Israelis followed that with a 61 61 crushing of Minella and Tiffany Cornelius in a match that was actually more difficult than the score suggests.
Israel’s clean sweep was an important three points in the bag in a very tight pool that includes Poland and Bulgaria, and Thursday’s tie between Israel and Bulgaria will be crucial in the outcome of who finishes top and advances to the play-offs.
Bulgaria beat Poland in a very high quality encounter late in the evening with temperatures dipping and the spectators, few of whom were prepared for the cold, wrapping up as warm as they could.
Elitsa Kostova got the all-important opening win in the tie for Bulgaria, beating Magda Linette 64 46 76(4). That preceded the clash between the two No. 1 players, world No. 10 Agnieszka Radwanska and world No. 33 Tsvetana Pironkova.
In a very high quality encounter, Radwanska’s trademark anticipation from the back of the court, which allowed her to get to every ball against her stylish Bulgarian opponent, did the trick by either finding an opening for a winner or forcing the error. She triumphed 62 64.
“She’s like a wall, she gets everything back, she’s a very good runner as well and she was also serving very well so I’m pleased that I closed it out in two sets,” Radwanska said.
Pironkova then teamed up with veteran Magdalena Maleeva to secure the tie for Bulgaria by winning 61 63 against Claudia Jans and Alicsja Rosolska.
Two other later ties resulted in 3-0 scorelines, with Netherlands beating Romania and Hungary beating Latvia.
The morning session started in cool conditions but soon blossomed on a warm, sunny winter's day in Israel's remote southern holiday resort city.
Belarus had the best of the proceedings, registering an easy 3-0 whitewash of Austria, with the pick of the matches the high-quality baseline encounter between Victoria Azarenka and veteran Sybille Bammer, which the Belarusian won 64 61.
Both players battled from the back of the court with some long and exiting rallies, but almost always it was Azarenka who prevailed with a spectacular final shot that was just a little too difficult for Bammer to deal with.
"She is the kind of player who gets a lot of balls back, you have to stay tough and I was expecting a lot of long rallies so it was good that she forced me to raise my level," Azarenka said.
The Belarusians opened proceedings when Olga Govortsova beat Patricia Mayr-Achleitner 62 61 and the tie was concluded with Darya Kustova and Tatiana Poutchek sweeping aside Sandra Klemenschits and Mayr-Achleitner 60 62.
Switzerland, who have a balanced quartet of players, gave themselves an excellent chance of finishing top of their three-team pool by making easy work of Great Britain in the singles rubbers.
Timea Bacsinszky defeated Heather Watson 61 63 and Patty Schnyder cruised past Anne Keothavong 61 62. Both the British players' games were strewn with errors, but Watson and Jocelyn Rae gained a consolation win in the doubles 64 63 against Bacsinszky and Amra Sadikovic.
"It was really a case of me being on and her being off... she couldn't get her game going so it was kind of an easy match," Schnyder said.
The Swiss will face Denmark on the second day of the event on Thursday and much will rest on the shoulders of world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who will have to carry her lowly-ranked teammates if they are to prevail.
The tie between Greece and Croatia was a much more drawn out affair with all three matches going the distance, and with Greece winning all three rubbers.
Eirini Georgatou beat Jelena Pandzic 26 61 64, veteran Eleni Daniilidou drew on all her experience to come back from a set down to outlast Ajla Tomljanovic 46 63 61 and the two then teamed up in the doubles to win 63 26 62 against Mijacika and Silvia Njiric.
Wednesday’s full results are listed below.
Switzerland 2-1 Great Britain
Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) d. Heather Watson (GBR) 61 63
Patty Schnyder (SUI) d. Anne Keothavong (GBR) 61 62
Jocelyn Rae / Heather Watson (GBR) d. Timea Bacsinszky / Amra Sadikovic (SUI) 64 63
Bulgaria 2-1 Poland
Elitsa Kostova (BUL) d. Magda Linette (POL) 64 46 76(5)
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) d. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 62 64
Magdalena Maleeva / Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) d. Klaudia Jans / Alicja Rosloska (POL) 61 63
Israel 3-0 Luxembourg
Julia Glushko (ISR) d. Anne Kremer (LUX) 61 57 60
Shahar Peer (ISR) d. Mandy Minella (LUX) 63 63
Julia Glushko / Shahar Peer (ISR) d. Tiffany Commelius / Mandy Minella (LUX) 61 61
Belarus 3-0 Austria
Olga Govortsova (BLR) d. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) 62 61
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. Sybille Bammer (AUT) 64 61
Darya Kustova / Tatiana Poutchek (BLR) d. Sandra Klemenschits / Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) 60 62
Greece 3-0 Croatia
Eirini Georgatou (GRE) d. Jelena Pandzic (CRO) 26 61 64
Eleni Daniilidou (GRE) d. Ajla Tomljanovic (CRO) 46 63 64
Eleni Daniilidou / Eirini Georgatou (GRE) d. Ani Mijacika / Silvia Njric (CRO) 63 26 62
Netherlands 3-0 Romania
Michaella Krajicek (NED) d. Monica Niculescu (ROU) 63 61
Arantxa Rus (NED) d. Alexandra Dulgheru (ROU) 61 63
Kiki Bertens / Richel Hogenkamp (NED) d. Alexandra Dulgheru / Monica Niculescu (ROU) 76(6) 36 75
Hungary 3-0 Latvia
Timea Babos (HUN) d. Irina Kuzmina (LAT) 63 64
Greta Arn (HUN) d. Liga Dekmeijere (LAT) 63 60
Timea Babos / Reka Luba Jani (HUN) d. Liga Dekmeijere / Irina Kuzmina (LAT) 64 63
- Europe/Africa Zone Group I