MOSCOW, RUSSIA: It is perhaps a sign of just how confident the Serbians were feeling going into their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal with Russia in Moscow this weekend that, if anything, there was an air of disappointment about the visiting captain Dejan Vranes at the end of the first day’s play.
Despite sharing the opening two singles rubbers on the Megasport Arena’s indoor clay, Vranes admitted that he was perhaps hoping for more from Saturday’s two singles after Jelena Jankovic had beaten an out-of-sorts Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, before an inspired Svetlana Kuznetsova outhit the in-form Ana Ivanovic to level the tie.
“I have to say that after the first day I thought it could be 2-0 to Serbia,” Vranes said after the red dust had settled. “Jelena played very well and we won that match, but for me it’s a little bit surprising how good Kuznetsova played today.”
Kuznetsova will certainly be the toast of the Russian camp on Saturday evening after a spirited performance in a must-win match against an opponent 12 places higher in the WTA rankings.
The two-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 27 began superbly, blowing Ivanovic away in a 24-minute first set full of aggressive clay court tennis before weathering a second set storm to crawl over the finish line 62 26 64.
The victory is even more impressive given Kuznetsova had won just two of their eight meetings going into the contest and had never beaten Ivanovic on clay. But the 26-year-old appears to relish playing for her country and she was so focused on the job towards the end of the deciding set that once match point had been converted she was the only person in the 5,150-capacity arena not to realise she had won the match.
“I thought it was something else, another score, I thought I was serving for the match or something!” she admitted after securing her 25th Fed Cup victory. “I was so focused on the game and I think it was the key for me today. I played so well in the first set, then lost a little bit of concentration and she turned it around because I stopped dictating it. It’s a very big point for us. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Like her captain, Ivanovic also admitted she had been shocked by the level of Kuznetsova’s tennis. “She played really well,” the world No.15 said. “I was really surprised - even from behind the baseline she was hitting some winners. It was very hard to read her game.”
The complexion of the tie would have been very different indeed had Kuznetsova not delivered for the hosts after an erratic performance from the Russian No. 1 Pavlyuchenkova earlier in the day. The 20-year-old world No. 22 has only won three singles matches on tour this year and she will be far from pleased with her 11 double faults and 45 unforced errors during a 64 63 defeat.
Jankovic still had to battle hard mind, coming back from a break down twice in the opening set, but Pavlyuchenkova’s serve misfired at crucial moments, particularly when she threw in two double faults when serving to stay in the opening set at 4-5.
Like Kuznetsova, Jankovic had been able to turn the tables on an opponent she’d had trouble against in the past, securing her first ever victory over the Russian in four attempts. “I’m very happy to win and get a point for Serbia,” the former world No. 1 said. “To be honest, I was very nervous and I’m happy I was able to perform.”
Pavlyuchenkova will get the chance to make amends when she steps up first on Sunday against Ivanovic, before Kuznetsova takes on Jankovic. If those matches are shared it will go down to the doubles where - providing neither captain changes their nominations - Russians Elena Vesnina and Maria Kirilenko will do battle with Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic.
“We feel very good and I think my players are playing very good, but I’m expecting tough matches and I hope they have enough strength to win,” reflected Vranes on his nation’s bid to reach its first Fed Cup final.
“We will see.”
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - 21/04/2012
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - 21/04/2012
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) - 21/04/2012
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) - 21/04/2012