MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: In a doubles decider with more twists than a Hitchcock thriller, Ukraine prevailed 3-2 over Australia in their World Group play-off tie of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.
Lesia Tsurenko and Olga Savchuk, ranked 131 and 144 respectively, were unknown to most Aussie tennis fans when they fronted up at the Glen Iris Valley club in suburban Melbourne. They left as clay-battered national heroines, surviving two matchpoints at 5-6 in the sea-change second set to seal a 06 76 63 win over Jarmila Groth and Anastasia Rodionova in the doubles.
Ukraine, without the services of its top two players, sisters Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko, enters the World Group for just the second time since it joined the Fed Cup in 1993. Australia returns to World Group II. Having ended a long exile from the elite nations stretching from 2004 to 2010, the Aussies’ stay in the World Group lasted for just one tie, the first-round loss to reigning champions Italy.
Ukraine also moves ahead 2-1 in its Fed Cup rivalry with Australia, continuing the curious pattern of winning away in Australia and losing at home.
Aussie loss difficult to swallow
For the first Fed Cup tie staged on clay Down Under, Australia was without its top claycourter and No. 1 player, Sam Stosur, as well No. 3 Jelena Dokic. Captain David Taylor, also Stosur’s personal coach, had said, in effect, “No Sam, no problem” days out from the tie, insisting he had the team to win. He was right and he was wrong.
“We were one point from winning,” Taylor reflected, flanked by his bitterly disappointed players. “That’s hard to accept at this stage. We don’t have an option other than to regroup.”
Taylor admitted surprise that the tie came down to a roll-of-the-dice doubles. Like his Ukrainian counterpart Igor Dernovskyi, Taylor ditched his original doubles selection and threw his singles players back into the fray for doubles. Neither of the teams had paired together in doubles before.
Groth all but selected herself for the doubles, losing just six games in her two singles rubbers. The highest-ranked player in the tie at No. 30 and playing No. 1 in Fed Cup for the first time, Jarmila had thumping 61 61 and 61 63 victories over Savchuk and Tsurenko respectively, both in 48 curt minutes.
But Rodionova was a risk - despite being the highest-ranked doubles player on the court at No. 28 - following teary defeats against Tsurenko 61 64 on the first day, and a 76 76 loss to Savchuk. In the latter, Rodionova led the whole way and held five set points in the epic 14-12 second-set tiebreak. The 28 year old, who debuted so impressively against Ukraine a year ago, defeating world No. 25 Alona Bondarenko, slumped before her home crowd against players ranked 59 and 72 places below her.
Worse was to follow in the doubles. The Aussies held two chances to clinch the tie on Rodionova’s serve at 6-5 in the second. She missed first serves on both and the Aussies never got close again. By that stage, the Ukrainians had overcome their initial tentativeness and started flattening out their shots - “They played freer,” Taylor observed.
They also took Groth out of the play with countless lobs over her head. At 3-1 in the third, a lob from Tsurenko beat both the Aussies, leaving them flailing at the air. The Ukrainians had broken Rodionova several times; a point later, they broke Groth.
Ukraine captain Igor Dernovskiy spoke volumes for the fighting ability of Savchuk when he said, “the tougher the situation, the better she likes it.” After her comeback win in the singles to level at 2-2, the adrenaline-fuelled Savchuk was never in doubt for the doubles. For all her messy net-work during the tie, Olga ironically won match point with a winning volley. But it was Tsurenko who turned the match with her powerful drives and lobs that landed like bombs.
The Aussies, who pride themselves on team spirit, recognise the same in others. “They had a really great attitude from start to finish and they got rewarded for that,” acknowledged Taylor.
Captain David Taylor (AUS) - 17/04/2011
Jarmila Groth (AUS) - 17/04/2011
Anastasia Rodionova (AUS) - 17/04/2011
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) and Olga Savchuk (UKR) - 17/04/2011