CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: Serbia put aside the absence of Jelena Jankovic, and a crushing defeat for stand-in Aleksandra Krunic in the day’s opening rubber, to sweep into the semifinals of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas with victory over Belgium.
Not only does the win book their place in the last four of the competition, which will mean a trip to Russia, but it also represents a first-ever victory in the top tier of Fed Cup. Incidentally, their only previous tie in the World Group ended in defeat to Russia in 2010, following failure in the deciding doubles.
How fitting, therefore, that they secured victory over Belgium with a win in the doubles, and with it an opportunity to avenge that loss to Russia.
With Jankovic nursing an injured left thigh, Bojana Jovanovski stepped in to join Krunic. The pair performed heroics, outwitting Yanina Wickmayer and debutant Alison van Uytvanck to create a slice of Serbian history.
Serbia took a tense, tight first set on the tiebreak, before Belgium bit back to level. The momentum may have been with Belgium, after claiming the second set 64, but the pendulum swung dramatically in the direction of Serbia, when Wickmayer’s serve was broken in the second game of the third set. Wickmayer was always going to be the key to Belgian success, paired as she was with untried 17-year-old Van Uytvanck.
But when Wickmayer was broken again in game six, the writing was on the Spiroudome wall. Moments later, Serbia’s bench spilled on to the court as victory was secured, 76 46 61 and the third, most precious of points was assured.
The bubbly Krunic joked: “Today, I was really afraid for my life because they were jumping on us and my neck was going everywhere so I was just praying that I didn’t break it.”
Jankovic pulled out of her meeting with Wickmayer earlier in the day, an hour before play was due to start. She had not fully recovered after damaging her leg during Saturday’s win over Kirsten Flipkens. This, she claims, was as a result of it being too cold inside the venue, resulting in a hematoma at the top of her left thigh.
And so in came Krunic, who stunned Wickmayer by breaking her in the very first game. The Belgian admitted to feeling nervous, against an unknown quantity, but she swiftly got the measure of her opponent, reeling off 12 straight games for a 61 60 win. That gave Belgium a 2-1 lead in the tie.
Like Wickmayer, compatriot Kirsten Flipkens was broken in the very first game of her match, against Bojana Jovanovski. Unlike her teammate, Flipkens could not respond, and was comfortably beaten in straight sets, 62 64.
And so we went to the fifth and final rubber. This was familiar territory for Serbia, who had gone the distance in their previous four Fed Cup ties. With Jankovic watching on and another of Serbia’s former world number ones, Ana Ivanovic, absent, it was left to Jovanovski and Krunic to warm the hearts of a nation.
For Belgium, defeat for new captain Ann Devries, who must now lead the side in a play-off to try and remain in the World Group.
She said: “That loss is a tough one to take, especially after being 2-1 up in the singles.
“I think Yanina was a little bit tired. Her back hurt a little bit, but she gave everything today and the Serbians played a good third set.”
Looking ahead, the Belgian skipper added: “We are in transition but we have a few good young players coming up, as well as Kirsten and Yanina, so I’m confident we will build a good team for the future.”
For Serbia, they can now look toward a semifinal meeting with Russia on April 21-22. Krunic, though, was keen to point out: “We are from Serbia, so any reason to celebrate is always welcomed in our country. We will celebrate now then we have a very tough opponent in Russia, but we are a very strong team and deserve the trophy – and need to prove that.”
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) - 05/02/2012
Captain Ann Devries (BEL) - 05/02/2012
Jelena Jankovic (BEL) - 05/02/2012
Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) - 05/02/2012