After a desperately erratic opening set, the real Aravane Rezai emerged to level the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie between France and Germany. Andrea Petkovic had given Germany the lead in Frankfurt with a 63 62 victory over Pauline Parmentier, and when Rezai made such a poor start against Tatjana Malek there seemed a real possibility of the home team ending the day in a commanding position.
Rezai, ranked just outside the world's Top 20, looked anything but the supposed class act of this tie, spraying the ball all over the place, and rarely inside the area of court she was aiming at. At the end of that horrible first set the French captain, Nicolas Escude, found himself talking to a towel as Rezai covered her head in the agony of it all. Somehow his words of wisdom percolated through.
Rezai breaks through first-time nerves
At 1.65m the 23-year-old French woman was having trouble with the high bouncing ball, and Malek, who had won their previous two meetings, fed her plenty, including a fair number of moon balls. At the opening to the second set, Rezai stepped in early on one such shot and swept away a winner. It was if a curtain fell from her eyes, and thereafter she was almost completely dominant, winning 26 63 60.
This was her Fed Cup debut, Rezai having previously had some problems with the French Federation over her coach. Had she lost, it would have left France needing to come back from 0-2 down, something that has only happened three times since the five-match format was inaugurated in 1995.
"I asked Aravane to simplify things and not to worry after the first set," said Escude. "It is always difficult when you are playing the first match for your country but she listened to what I was saying, even if it was through her towel."
There was no doubting Rezai's greater natural ability as the match progressed, and the victory will obviously have given her confidence for what may be a tricky second day for the French.
Petkovic wins first Fed Cup singles
By comparison it was obvious from the outset that Petkovic was going to be too strong for Parmentier. Escude had accentuated the strength of the French girl's forehand, but it was no match for the German women's equivalent stroke, hit flat and with power, while her serve also carried more danger than her opponent.
A group of 50 or so French supporters, complete with the obligatory drums, were initially in fine voice but their enthusiasm began to ebb when Parmentier, who previously held a 2-0 head-to-head lead over Petkovic, dropped her serve in the fourth game, the German setting up the break with a thunderous forehand serve return.
Not that is was by any means all power from the Bosnian-born German. A couple of deft drop-shots had Parmentier scurrying vainly towards the net, while Petkovic was also prepared to volley when necessary, something of a rarity in the modern women's game.
In the second set she hit consecutive forehand and backhand volleys to claim the point, much to the delight of herself and the home fans. Petkovic lives close by in Darmstadt, so her opening victory was particularly warmly received. And she thoroughly deserved it.
"Pauline was very frustrated and when you get into that frame of mind it is difficult to think clearly," said Escude, who intimated he might shuffle his players around for Sunday’s play. "We will have a team meeting and talk through the alternatives."