MARIBOR, SLOVENIA: Germany and Slovenia each got a point from their No. 1 players on the opening day of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie to set up an exciting second day of play on the clay courts of Lukna Arena.
The guests drew first blood through Andrea Petkovic, who beat Masa Zec-Peskiric in straight sets 63 64 in a match that was closer than the score would suggest. Polona Hercog then gave the home crowd reason for excitement, as she overpowered Julia Goerges, also in straight sets, 75 64.
Australian Open quarterfinalist Petkovic was looking forward to hitting the court first and she quickly showed some of the form that elevated her to a career-high ranking of No. 24 in January by racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set of her rubber against close friend Zec-Peskiric.
But the rest of the match would prove to be more of a struggle for the 23-year-old German, as Zec-Peskiric, who is ranked No. 147 in the world, found her range from the baseline. The Slovenian rallied to 4-3 and forced the German to battle for each point in order to close out the set.
In the second, Zec-Peskiric, who had lost both her previous career meetings against Petkovic, started off more aggressively and immediately broke the German for a 2-0 lead. Just as she was on the verge of confirming the break, an overruled call appeared to fluster her, allowing Petkovic to set up and convert a third break point of the game.
Petkovic then took the next two games with her second break of the set, before Zec-Peskiric broke the German for the third time of the match to level the score at 3-3. However, two double faults by the Slovenian in the next game allowed Petkovic to reclaim the break and then close out the match on her service.
After the match, Germany’s No. 1 said that winning the opener was a relief. “The first match is always tough, especially now for me. I just came from Australia where I played on hard court and now I’m indoors on clay, so I was a little worried about how I was going to adapt to the surface.”
With the second set decided by only a couple of points, Petkovic said that she was able to prevail by playing aggressively. “In the key moments, I went for my shots, I went for my chances, I showed the courage to go for it and I think that was the difference in the end.”
Germany's lead would be short-lived, however, as home-town favourite Hercog powered to a straight sets victory in less than 1 hour 30 minutes against Goerges with the help of a strong serving display.
Hercog connected on 70 per cent of her first services and had five aces to control the match against Goerges, who at No. 4 is ranked 13 places higher in the world than the Slovenian. Hercog also disrupted the baseline game of Goerges with an arsenal of well-disguised drop shots.
This would prove enough in a match of only four breaks, with the Slovenian capitalising twice on weak service games by her opponent at crucial moments, at 5-5 in the first set and 4-4 in the second set. And while admittedly nervous ahead of the final game, the Maribor native confirmed the victory on her first match point.
“I became a little nervous before the end, but I managed to serve very well and I’m very satisfied with today’s match,” Hercog was beaming after the match.
Asked about the strategy of mixing up her game, Hercog said: “That’s actually my game. I’m always playing drop shots, I’m always playing slice, I’m always top spinning, I’m just trying to force my game on the opponents.”
Hercog’s performance brought a smile to the face of Slovenian team captain Iztok Bozic, who is proud of the performances of the 20 year-old. “She did a great job to be focused all the time… Knowing that she did not have a good start to the year, to play such a good match at such a high level at this age, for me it is unbelievable.”
Maintaining ahead of the tie that all the pressure was on Germany, Bozic assessed that the tied score line would make it even tougher for Germany on day two. The strategy for Slovenia will therefore be to “put as much pressure as possible… and we shall see what happens”.
Germany captain Barbara Rittner is remaining composed however, saying that Germany would try to make adjustments after seeing Slovenia’s game plan. “We’ve seen some interesting things… and we’ll talk about it tonight to decide what tactics to use.”