Serbia’s hopes of making a winning World Group debut in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas ended in disappointment with a 3-2 loss at home to Russia. Although another crowd of almost 10,000 fans gathered in the Belgrade Arena to cheer on their two stars, ultimate success proved beyond them.
For Jelena Jankovic the day was bittersweet because after her remarkable recovery in Saturday’s second singles rubber against Alisa Kleybanova, she kicked off Sunday’s action with another rousing three set win against Russia’s No.1 Svetlana Kuznetsova, winning 63 46 63.
Playing aggressively and with great focus from the outset she took the game to the world No.4 and put her second serve under immense pressure. Kuznetsova did well to force a deciding set after dropping the first, but with the home fans backing Jankovic all the way to the finish she would not be denied even though the Russian looked to be the stronger physically down the stretch.
So Serbia moved 2-1 ahead and for Ana Ivanovic, plus her many admirers, the hope was that she could then secure a third point to put Serbia into the semifinals. But these are tough times tennis-wise for the former French Open champion and world No.1, who is clearly lacking the confidence which took her to the top of the game a couple of years ago.
As against Kuznetsova the day before, so against Kleybanova the out-of-sorts Ivanovic struggled to get going and was 40 down in next to no time. She then broke serve to get on the scoreboard, but was broken again for the third time to lose the opening set 62.
The second set was much closer with both players creating more break point opportunities before the more powerful and penetrating play of Kleybanova put her 53 ahead, from where she then served out to win it 63.
Russia clinches deciding doubles
After half an hour’s break, both were back on court in the deciding doubles, Jankovic teaming up with Ivanovic and Kuznetsova doing likewise with Kleybanova in a deliberate switch by their captain Shamil Tarpischev.
He had originally nominated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Vera Dushevina for the task, but as so often down the years in which he has guided Russian teams to so much success, Tarpischev sensed what was required and was proved right to make the switch.
Even though hordes of Serbian fans in the upper tiers were invited to come down closer to the court to make the atmosphere even more exciting, their support was in vain.
The Russian duo romped through the first set 61 and although the Serbs rallied to lead with a break in the second, a tightening right shoulder for Ivanovic prompted one more Russian response, the visitors recovering to win the set 64 and book their country’s place in the semifinals once again.
“I’m happy we played some great matches. Overall our team win and this is what counts,” said Kuznetsova, while Kleybanova added, “Yesterday was a very tough day but I’m happy I recovered well and I was performing pretty good today. It is most important that we won the whole match and I am very happy.”
Jankovic summed up her team’s feelings like this: “For sure it’s disappointing. We really gave our best on the court. It was a great atmosphere to play in. Unfortunately we lost in the doubles. It was difficult for us, but what can you do? It was a great competition and hopefully next time we will be able to do it.”
Russia’s reward is a trip to the USA in April, while Serbia must wait for Wednesday’s draw to find out who they will face in the World Group Play-Offs.