BESANÇON, FRANCE: When Polona Hercog, the Slovenian No. 1, surprisingly pulled out of the opening rubber with a shoulder injury it seemed that all France had to do was turn up to banish the unthinkable prospect of a second consecutive relegation to the nether regions of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. Thankfully, things are rarely ever that straightforward in this competition.
For starters, Virginie Razzano, of France, chose this of all times to go “missing” for the best part of three-quarters of an hour and as for finishers, well, she almost didn’t make it across the line, collapsing with severe cramp when within two points of victory against her far less experienced if older opponent, Petra Rampre.
Ultimately, with gritted teeth and great guts, the 28-year-old hauled herself over the line in the very next game to win 26 64 64 and the whole of the Palais des Sports, if not quite France itself, let out an audible sigh of relief. As did, no doubt, Pauline Parmentier, its No. 1, who would have been under extreme pressure to extricate the nation from a decidedly dodgy situation.
Able to swing freely against her 17-year-old opponent, Nastja Kolar, she won 62 63 to give France a 2-0 lead at the end of day one. We hadn’t seen the best of the red-headed Kolar - who comically called her serve “tragic” - but Parmentier was on her game despite the emotional ride her teammate had given her. “I was watching the TV in the locker room and saying, ‘Come on, you can do it’.”
Whether or not Razzano would have been able to beat Hercog, the world No. 37, is a moot point. Understandably, she looked a bit rusty after a five-and-a-half-week layoff with a hip injury and although hard courts are not the Slovenian’s preferred surface she was in good enough form recently - reaching the semifinals in Charleston - to have raised Slovenian hopes that she could transfer it from red clay to blue acrylic.
“We knew she had a small problem for the past week, but it was a big shock when she told us last night,” said Matevzic. “We were really in shock and disappointed that this happened.”
Having pulled out she cannot now play in the reverse singles, but Razzano might be able to. She admitted she regularly suffered from cramp but usually managed to overcome it pretty quickly. Hot and cold baths had improved her condition, but no decision on whether she will play will be taken until Sunday.
She started well enough, holding to love, but after that errors flooded into her aggressive style of play and suddenly she found herself a set and a break down against an opponent, who didn’t know for sure she was playing until half an hour beforehand.
“They told me last night it could be a possibility, but first she had to go to the doctor and then I was told for sure about 30 minutes before the match,” said Rampre, who was once a very promising junior and now at the age of 32 at an all-time high ranking of 153.
“It was too bad I didn’t close it out, sometimes that happens to me. The injury kind of loosened her up, she was not as nervous because she was just thinking, ‘let’s get through it, I don’t want to cramp again’. I thought I could maybe move her a little more to stretch her out but she hit a backhand winner down the line at 30-all and came into the net and put pressure on me.”
Razzano righted herself just in time in the second set before the rot truly set in. Although never totally convincing, she looked likely to win serving for the match at 5-3, but let out a scream at deuce after playing a backhand. She collapsed on the floor, clutching her right thigh and eventually decided to forfeit the following point in order to receive treatment.
It wasn’t totally surprising. Nicolas Escude, the captain, had been massaging both her thighs during the changeovers, much to the amusement of Razzano, but it was no laughing matter now. Escude put the cramp down to nerves.
As Rampre quite rightly said, if nothing else, it did sort of free up Razzano’s mind because she then knew that if she didn’t clinch victory in the next game or two the opportunity might pass her by. Luckily for her, on match point, Rampre was fractionally wide with an attempted passing shot, but it was a gutsy effort from the French girl all the same.
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
Slovenia captain Maja Matevzic - 21/04/2012
Pauline Parmentier (FRA) - 21/04/2012
Virginie Razzano (FRA) - 21/04/2012
Petra Rampre (SLO) - 21/04/2012