TALLINN, ESTONIA: Thanks to a fantastic fight back from Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez to win the third point and a solid display by Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth rubber, Spain achieved its goal at the Tere Tennis Club in Tallinn – to play in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-offs on 16-17 April.
Martinez won a gruelling battle against Kaia Kanepi 36 64 63 in two hours 17 minutes in which the balance of power was shifting between both players until the Spaniard managed to impose herself on the game.
Then, Suarez bounced back from her loss on Saturday and didn’t cut the young Estonian Anett Kontaveit any slack, winning 62 62 in one hour and three minutes to seal the Spanish triumph.
With nothing but pride to play for, Nuria Llagostera and Anabel Medina overcame Maret Ani and Margit Ruutel 61 76(5) in the dead doubles rubber to hand Spain the win 4-1.
“It’s a great feeling to have the chance to return to the World Group,” said Suarez.
“We are very satisfied,” added Spanish captain Miguel Margets. “Last year we were in a play-off to avoid being relegated to the third division (Europe/Africa Zone Group I) and a year later we are in a position to reach the top tier. The girls have come here very motivated and well prepared.”
Martinez stops bullets
It was the key match, it would swing the balance in favour of one side or the other. And it didn’t disappoint. Martinez and Kanepi played at a ferocious pace, neither giving anything away. Finally, in front of 1000 home fans, the visiting side’s No. 1 players managed to dodge enough bullets from the world No. 17 to win.
It wasn’t like that at first. Kanepi started well despite losing her first service game. Quickly she raced out to a 4-1 lead. “I was worried for a while,” admitted Margets. But Martinez found a way to cope with the home player’s game at the end of the first set and the second was like a different match.
“It wasn’t easy for me because she plays a really good game with lots of intensity, but by the end of the match I had worked out her game plan and I could start to pull a few strings and impose a bit of doubt in her mind,” said Martinez.
Martinez ran out to a 4-0 lead in the second set with two breaks of serve before Kanepi clawed her way back to 4-5, but the Estonian lost her own serve and so it went to a third set. At 3-3 in the third came the key moment: the Spaniard saved three break points with some great play at the net and at 4-3, she broke the Estonian’s serve before holding her own to ignite the Spanish bench.
It is not the first time that the world No. 28 has won a key match on foreign soil against a great opponent: in 2010, she beat Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska to put Spain 2-1 ahead to keep Spain in World Group II.
Suarez bounces back
Against Kontaveit, Suarez had the chance to show she was a better player than her performace on Saturday implied and seal the victory for Spain. Calmly, knowing that she was the better player, she took control. “It felt good, she said. “I was hitting the ball better than Saturday and Maria Jose did me a favour making it 2-1 not 1-2.”
Kontaveit had few chances but she gave a good account of herself on the biggest stage that she has ever played in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and gave the crowd a chance to get to know her.
“She will be a great player,” said Margets. “Obviously she has to grow a little but I see her doing well in the future. She’s one to watch.”
With its mission accomplished, Spain now looks towards the draw which takes place on Wednesday to see who it will play in the World Group play-offs. “Lately we have been very unlucky when it comes to draws,” said Suarez. “We are never at home and we are always playing teams with players in the Top 10. Let’s see if the draw can help us."