HOBART, AUSTRALIA: Defending champions Italy and host nation Australia head into the second and final day of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie in Hobart level after the opening two singles.
Australia’s Jarmila Groth got the home side off to a great start with a 67(4) 63 63 victory over world No. 4 Francesca Schiavone, and then Flavia Pennetta brought things back by stopping world No. 5 Samantha Stosur 76(5) 67(5) 64.
The second singles marked the first time in Fed Cup history that Italy had won a match against Australia after 16 consecutive losses, including Groth’s victory at the start of the day.
Stosur was also hoping to break a drought as she had never taken even a set from Pennetta in their three previous encounters but, although she did win the second set in a tiebreak, she squandered the chance to post a win over the Italian even though she had more than her fair share of chances.
In the first set, after coming back at 1-1 from a one-hour rain delay, Stosur had a 5-3 lead and served for the set but was broken. Pennetta forced a tiebreak and, after Stosur missed another chance, the Italian took the lead.
Stosur again reached 5-3 in the second set, serving at 5-4, only to let Pennetta back in. The Australian was frustrated at not capitalising when these moments came up, but she did manage to close out the set this time in the subsequent tiebreak.
The final set see sawed with three consecutive service breaks late on. It gave Pennetta an opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4 and she gratefully took the opportunity and levelled the tie.
"We both fought hard and wanted to win the point for our teams," said Pennetta. "She had a few chances in the first and second sets but I was playing well. This match was decided by one or two points and it was a really good match. I think the crowd enjoyed it."
"Anytime you serve for the first two sets and lose, it is disappointing," said Stosur. "We wanted a better result but it was not to be. She's a very tough competitor and you just don't want to make silly mistakes."
In the opening match, Groth looked a bit nervous at the start, something to be expected as it was her Fed Cup debut for Australia, but she stuck it out with Schiavone, perhaps gaining confidence from having recently won the Hobart WTA title on this same court.
The Italian then seemed to be making a move when she led 2-0 in the second set, but the Australian played a point at a time. She held serve and suddenly Schiavone’s game began to fall apart.
Groth’s confidence started to grow and she took eight of the next nine games, including five in a row. That gave her a 2-0 lead in the final set and the 23 year-old kept the pressure on with aggressive back court tennis, rifling groundstroke winners down the line, particularly off her forehand, and Schiavone was just unable to retrieve them.
Then at 5-3 with Schiavone serving, Groth held three match points. The Italian saved them and went up game point, but Groth kept grinding out the returns and on match point five Schiavone put a forehand volley into the net.
“It is my first Fed Cup singles and it is very important and exciting and I beat someone who is No. 4 in the world,” Groth said. “It is one of the great wins for me and I am happy and excited.
“Even though I lost the first set I played pretty well; I had so many chances. I had not played her before so I didn’t know how to direct things, but I concentrated well and a couple of points turned the match around.”
“I had chances when I went up 76 20, but then I didn’t serve good the rest of the match,” Schiavone said. “My level was not so high and she got right shots and played good. I never seen her play and I was passive a little bit and she won. If she plays more consistent she will be more dangerous, but today she did enough.”
The reverse singles on Sunday will start with Stosur playing Schiavone in a repeat of last year’s French Open final, then Groth meets Pennetta. Closing out the series will be the doubles with Rennae Stubbs and Anastasia Rodionova facing Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, although substitutions might be made if the tie hinges on the final rubber.
Watch this tie live on: FedCup.tv