HYOGO, JAPAN: The hosts put themselves in the driving seat in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round tie against Slovenia on Saturday, but Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ayumi Morita had to work hard to overcome their opponents at the Bourbon Beans Dome near Kobe.
Date-Krumm got the ball rolling with a 26 64 62 victory over Slovenian No. 1 Polona Hercog and Morita followed up in similar fashion, overcoming Nastsja Kolar 26 64 63.
In Sunday’s reverse singles, the two No. 1s – Morita and Hercog – will meet in the first match, to be followed by an intriguing match-up between one of the oldest and one of the youngest players in the competition: 41-year-old Date-Krumm against 17-year-old Kolar.
“She could be my mother,” the teenager joked at her post-match press conference. But if Hercog overcomes Morita, it will be no laughing matter as the teenager from Celje will need to beat the former world No. 4 to keep the tie alive. Both Slovenian players will need to dig deep on Sunday in order to prevent a repetition of their collapses on Saturday.
Date-Krumm, a notoriously slow starter, was blowing into her hands as she walked to the court in order to try to overcome the freezing conditions at Bourbon Beans Dome. The temperature in the arena was a frigid 10 degrees celcius despite 16 massive heaters arranged around the court.
“I just kept trying to be near the heaters,” Date-Krumm admitted afterwards.
Hercog may have delivered five aces in the first set, but in her first four service games, she had to struggle through 14 deuces. After Hercog took the first three games of the match, Date-Krumm responded with back-to-back games to love. But Hercog responded in the seventh game with three aces and went 5-2 up after a sixth deuce. Date then had a bad service game that included two double faults – the only ones she had in the match – and Hercog found herself a set up.
The Slovenian No. 1 got off to a flying start in the second set, winning the first game to love, and she did the same to go up 4-3. But two double-faults in the ninth game handed the momentum to Date-Krumm and the veteran Japanese finished off the set with some superb tennis, including a dazzling backhand dropshot volley.
Hercog went 1-0 up in the third set, but her early dominance had vanished and Date-Krumm controlled the set thereafter, earning a big hug from captain Takeshi Murakami after the final point.
“It was tough to hold my focus all the time because the matches were so close,” Hercog explained. “I managed to play my best tennis to 4-3 in the second set, but then my concentration dropped and she started to take over. After that, it was very tough to get back into the match.
“Date-Krumm is a very experienced player, so it’s never easy to play against this kind of player. Her game is very difficult for me, the way she plays flat and fast, and she was returning good. But it’s really good to have players like this on tour.” On return points won, Date-Krumm outduelled Hercog 45-31.
Morita’s match with Kolar followed almost an identical pattern to the first match. Kolar breezed through the first set, prompting Japan coach Murakami to tell his No. 1 to be more aggressive.
The tactic worked, as Kolar had to respond in kind, but she started to lose control, spraying shots around the court while Morita began rifling balls down the lines. Kolar still came up with flashes of brilliance, but her second-serve winning percentage dropped from 71 per cent to just 14 per cent. Morita served just one double-fault in the match.
By the third set, Morita was gunning balls over the net and Kolar could find no consistency with which to tackle her opponent. There was a brief wag of the tail in the eighth game, but the young Slovenian was beaten well before that.
“I started playing great,” Kolar pointed out afterwards. “But in the second set it was a bit worse and my opponent started to play very good, so it was tough.”
Kolar was the only player on the day who wasn’t fazed by the chilly air inside Bourbon Beans Dome.
“I have the same conditions where I practice at home, so I’m feeling at home here,” she laughed. Slovenia may be 2-0 down, but captain Maja Matevzic is hopeful her players can turn things around on Sunday.
“To be honest, we thought Polona would win today, so it was a bit of a surprise that she didn’t play her best tennis. Tomorrow is a new day and it’s still open, so we remain optimistic.”
Nastja Kolar (SLO) - 04/02/2012
Captain Maja Matevzic (SLO) - 04/02/2012
Kimiko Date-Krumm (JPN) - 04/02/2012
Ayumi Morita (JPN) - 04/02/2012
Captain Takeshi Murakami (JPN) - 04/02/2012