KOKSIJDE, BELGIUM: It was a mixed day for the Radwanska sisters in Koksijde as day one of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off between Belgium and Poland ended level at 1-1.
World No. 4 Agnieszka had given Poland the early lead with a 62 64 win against 19-year-old Alison Van Uytvanck, before younger sister Urszula, ranked No. 32, lost 64 63 to Kirsten Flipkens in what was a crucial win for the hosts to keep alive their hopes of avoiding relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group I for the first time since 1995.
Flipkens, ranked No. 22, will now hope to cause an upset when she takes on Agnieszka in Sunday’s first rubber, with Van Uytvanck facing another tall order against Urszula. Ysaline Bonaventure and An-Sophie Mestach have been named to take on Katarzyna Piter and Alicja Rosolska in the doubles but the nominations for both teams will likely change if the tie is still live by the time the deciding rubber comes.
Poland remain the favourites to return to World Group II for the first time since 2010 but captain Tomasz Wiktorowski is as cautious as ever. He said: “Even if I think we are favourites I would say it is 50/50. I don’t want to judge our chances.
“Flipkens and Alison played very good tennis, very high quality, so really we need to be focused and prepared 100 per cent for tomorrow because anything can happen.”
The opening rubber was a massive step up for world No. 183 Van Uytvanck whose only wins this year came in $25k tour events or lower, although she had come up against Agnieszka before in the quarterfinals of the Brussels Open last year, losing 62 61.
The teenager understandably made a nervy start as she quickly went 0-40 down on serve in the opening game and netted a forehand to concede the early break. However, she settled and even claimed a break point at 23, which was saved by Agnieszka with a forehand pass in response to a drop shot from the young Belgian.
Agnieszka, though, went on to claim the double break for 5-2 when Van Uytvanck hit her lob long and the Pole comfortably held to love to win the first set in just 34 minutes.
Van Uytvanck’s power has many speaking of her potential and she began to show it in the second set, hitting a number of winners off both wings – the total winners count at the end of the match actually showing that she hit 33 to Radwanska’s 27.
Another break point opportunity was missed by the Belgian, though, at 3-2 when she netted a backhand. Radwanska then broke for 5-4 but had to save three more break points at 0-40 before closing out the win as Van Uytvanck netted on match point.
Agnieszka said: “Alison played good tennis today, especially in the second set when she started to play much better and much more aggressive so I really had to play my best tennis today to win that match.”
The second rubber between Flipkens and Urszula was always set to be the key match for the hosts this weekend and it got off to an edgy start from both as breaks were exchanged twice early on before Flipkens broke once more to take the opening set 64, with Urszula netting a backhand volley on the Belgian’s second set point.
Sitting at a career-high ranking of No. 22 coming into this match, Flipkens was proving the steadier player as the rallies went on, utilising her backhand slice to great effect. It was this shot which earned her the break in the second set for 3-1, Urszula netting her effort at the slice in response.
Although Flipkens immediately lost the break, she got it back at the crucial moment to go 5-3 up before closing out the match to the delight of her former Fed Cup teammate Kim Clijsters who was watching from the stands.
Flipkens knows she now has to step up her game even more against Agnieszka, who she recently lost to in the quarterfinals of the Sony Open in Miami in a tight three-set match.
She said: “I haven’t won against a op four player yet. I was close in Miami but against these players, they are always there on the important points. They know when they have to put a little bit more pressure or play a little closer to the lines. I think I have to be not 100 per cent but 200 per cent to have a chance tomorrow.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores
Captain Tomasz Wiktorowski (POL) - 20/04/2013
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) - 20/04/2013
Captain Ann Devries (BEL) - 20/04/2013
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) - 20/04/2013