PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: Going into the first day of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final there was a feeling that the Serbians might have the advantage.
Lucie Safarova was facing a higher-ranked opponent in Ana Ivanovic and Petra Kvitova was struggling to make a comeback from a viral illness that had forced her to withdraw from the WTA Championships.
Three hours later and Safarova was being heralded for a delightful perofrmance that saw her defeat Ivanovic 64 63 and Kvitova quelled any concerns by storming back in a match that had initially looked to be going in Jankovic's favour.
“I cannot ask for more," said Czech captain Petr Pala. "The girls put up a great performance. We are confident but we have to be ready for tomorrow. We don’t want to underestimate anything because we are facing a great team. But we need one point and we have three chances."
In the opening rubber it was the best we’d ever seen of Safarova. The world No. 17 needed 1 hour 41 minutes to down Ivanovic, who was struggling to keep up with the hard-hitting lefty and missed key opportunities to get her nose ahead in the match.
So many of the games could have gone either way, but an inspired Safarova dug deep. Both players had a nervous start and it was Ivanovic’s four double faults in the third game of the first set that enabled Safarova to earn the first break of the match to 2-1.
The Serb immediately broke back to level but Safarova remained ahead for the rest of the match, crucially earning her third of four overall breaks in the opening game of the second set which set her on her way to victory.
Ivanovic lay down as many as 32 unforced errors, over twice as many as Safarova, and admitted that nerves played a strong part in the defeat.
“It’s hard because you feel like you create chances then you just miss and your opponent plays a good shot and it’s very, very hard,” admitted the former world No. 1. “It makes you go for more and then you make a mistake and then it’s frustrating again.
“I really tried to keep myself focused on each point, but it was tough at some moments. She played aggressive and she made shots.”
Safarova was certain that it was the crowd that got her over the line. Over 13,000 people crammed into the O2 Arena to be part of the biggest Fed Cup crowd that both teams have ever experienced.
“It was amazing, it’s an amazing feeling,” said Safarova. “The people were just cheering so loud and I was so driven by it.
Ivanovic has no choice but to regain her composure and return to the court with confidence when she takes on Czech No. 1 and world No. 8 Kvitova in the first of the reverse singles.
“It’s going to be another tough match, she’s a great player, big serve, big strokes and it’s going to be in her first shot. I really hope to start sharp because you can’t really give her a headstart.”
For Kvitova it was a difficult opening to her first rubber of the final. Down a break in the first set the jubilant crowd had been silenced by some sublime play from Jankovic. But at 3-4 down something changed.
The Czech reeled off an astonishing nine games in a row with a combination of that big lefty serve working well and some powerful, flat groundstrokes.
"When I was down 4-2 I had a great service game and I was quite angry, but the good angry, this is from my Mum I think," said Kvitova. "Jelena played so well, she didn’t have any mistakes before, so I knew they had to come and that I had to wait for some chances and just try my fast game."
And the fast game started to work and started to work well. The look on Jankovic's face was reflected by the Serbian bench but she will have to pick herself up and be prepared for tomorrow should her team-mate do the unthinkable and bring an end to Kvitova's wonderful run in this competition.
Jankovic said: "It has been a long time since we have been in this position, 2-0 after the first day. It's not an easy situation for us but we have to stay positive. The tie is not over until the last point is won so we go one step at a time and maybe tomorrow is our day."
Lucie Safarova (CZE) - 03/11/2012
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - 03/11/2012
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 03/11/2012
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) - 03/11/2012
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 03/11/2012