ULCINJ, MONTENEGRO: The final standings in Europe/Africa Zone Group II were decided today, as were tomorrow’s matches to decide who will be promoted and relegated from the group.
Latvia took on Tunisia to decide who would end up top of Group A and the two nations did not disappoint. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) opened the tie with a 61 61 victory over Nour Abbes (TUN) to give Latvia the early advantage. Tunisian No. 1, Ons Jabeur, fought back for the North Africans, taking the second rubber 64 63, levelling the tie in the process.
That meant that the spectators were left with a doubles rubber to decide the leaders of Group A. The doubles featured all of the four singles players, and it was Tunisia who won the opening set 63. That left the Latvian pair needing to win both of the remaining sets. They were unable to do so as Jabeur and Abbes sealed victory for Tunisia, 63 64 in the doubles.
The other tie in Group A saw Estonia take on Finland as both nations attempted to avoid finishing bottom of the group. The first tie saw Julia Matojan of Estonia take on Finland’s Tanja Tuomi and it was Matojan who got off to the better start, taking the opening set 63. Tuomi refused to give in, however, and took the second set 75.
With the rubber entering a deciding third set, both players were making some excellent shots and there was nothing to separate them so the rubber went to a tiebreak. They were still tied at 6-6 in the tiebreak, but then Tuomi got a mini break, before serving the rubber out 36 75 76(6).
This left Estonia needing a win in the second singles rubber and Tatjana Vorobjova started well, taking the opening set of her rubber against Piia Suomalainen 63. However, just as happened in the opening rubber, Finland fought back and Suomalainen took the second set 63. There was to be no tiebreak in the third set, but the result was the same as the opening rubber as the Finn won 36 63 64.
This ensured that Estonia would finish bottom of the group but the Eastern Europeans were determined to avoid a whitewash, and they did so successfully, winning the doubles rubber 76(3) 61.
The battle to finish at the top of Group B saw Montenegro take on Lithuania. Ana Veselinovic (MNE) took on Justina Mikulskyte (LTU) in the opening rubber and the Montenegrin comfortably won the opening set 61. Mikulskyte bounced back, taking the second set 61, and forcing the rubber into a deciding third set. The pair were neck-and-neck until Veselinovic got a crucial break of serve and held on, claiming the opening rubber 61 16 64.
The second rubber saw Vladica Babic (MNE) take on Joana Eidukonyte (LTU) and Babic easily took the first set 60. That left Eidukonyte needing to win the next two sets to keep Lithuania in the tie. Unfortunately, she was unable to do so and Babic sealed Montenegro’s victory, winning 60 64.
That secured Montenegro’s place at the top of Group B but they were not about to let up on Lithuania, wanting to exert their superiority over their opponents and claim a whitewash. Having been rested during the singles, Montenegro’s No. 1, Danka Kovinic, came in for the doubles and, partnering Danica Krstajic, won 63 60.
The other tie in Group B saw second seeds South Africa, trying to avoid finishing bottom of their group, take on a Greek side attempting the same thing. The opening rubber saw Natalie Grandin (RSA) up against Despoina Papamichail (GRE). Papamichail went into the rubber unbeaten in singles and continued her good form, taking the opening set 63.
The second set was a lot closer, eventually heading to a tiebreak. The two players were tied at 6-6, and, unbelievably, were still tied at 12-12. Something had to give and, eventually, it did as Papamichail took the tiebreak 15-13, sealing a 63 76(13) victory.
Chanel Simmonds, the South African No. 1, was then handed the task of stopping her nation coming bottom of the group. She started well, taking the opening set 63, before upping her game to a level where her opponent was unable to cope, taking the second rubber 63 60.
This left a deciding doubles rubber at the bottom of the group. Natalie Grandin and Madrie Le Roux of South Africa took on Despoina Vogasari and Despoina Papamichail of Greece, with the winners earning thirds place in the group. The South Africans took a close opening set 64 meaning the Greek pair would need to win the next two sets to avoid finishing bottom of the group, but they could not cope with the South Africans and Grandin and Le Roux ended up winning 64 64.
After today’s results, we now know that Tunisia will play Lithuania and Latvia will take on Montenegro in the two promotional play-offs, with the winners of each of those ties being promoted to Zone Group I for next year. We also know that Finland take on Greece and Estonia face South Africa in the relegation play-offs, with the two losing nations being relegated to Zone Group III for next year’s competition.