Fed Cup Final starts in



06 February 2010

Ukraine holds defending champions



  • Nick Lester

Alona Bondarenko (UKR)

For those Ukrainians who care not much for the political tussle about to engulf their nation, Sunday 7 February can offer up an appetising alternative.

Indeed, tennis may just be a game and with only minor consequences in comparison, but the fight to hold office will have competition from the fight to win a place in the semifinals of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.

Twenty-four hours into a very finely-balanced first round tie in Kharkiv, Italy and Ukraine are locked at 1-1.

Bondarenko sweeps first five games

With conditions outside the Palace of Sports “Lokomotiv" touching minus 15 degrees Celsius, Alona Bondarenko's start to 2010 has been anything but cold. Ten matches into the year and still the 25-year-old can count only one defeat, that coming in the last 16 of the Australian Open to China’s Jie Zheng.

With the pressure on here to open proceedings and get her country's bid off on the right foot, the elder of the two sisters came out to play, spurred by an opening game break despite trailing 15-40, she proceeded to win five straight games, the only blemish coming when serving at 5-0.

A set in the bag and with the backhand dictating play, Bondarenko fought off a brief Schiavone revival at the start of the second with the Italian No. 2 holding two points to lead 4-1.

It’s rare indeed that the durable Italian gives away so much so cheaply; a tally of 54 unforced errors tells its own story for someone so used to playing so tough.

Pennetta keeps defending champions on even keel

From 2-3 down Bondarenko pushed on and closed out the opening rubber in exactly an hour and a half, admitting she was happy to have coped with the pressure. "We were both nervous at the start. It is better playing here every year and I was happy to have won.”

With a brief respite and the locals kept quiet by some zealous cheerleaders who it seemed were willing to grasp any opportunity to frequent the free court, part two of the sister act was all set.

Kateryna Bondarenko has come a long way since claiming the junior Wimbledon title in 2004, last year reaching her first senior Slam quarterfinal in New York. However, if Flavia Pennetta has improved one thing in the last 12 months it's her consistency of performance. Under the gun with the defending champions in trouble, she held off the 23 year old for a high quality straight sets 75 63 win.

At times perhaps though according to her courtside coach Gabriel Urpi, a little defensive. “Flavia in the beginning was playing very good, she was constructing the points very well but not finishing. It's not easy though as the court here is very slow and with players coming from Australia to play indoors and the perception of the ball and the light it’s very difficult.”

Unbeaten Vinci ready for call-up

Saturday's two winners are up first on Sunday, in the words of Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti it could be “the key” to victory.

It is distinctly possible this tie will still be alive come the doubles. If that's the case the visitors will call on an untouchable Roberto Vinci, who has never lost when playing for her country in Fed Cup.

Ukraine has nominated Mariya Koryttseva and Viktoria Kutzova but the Bondarenko's can claim a Grand Slam doubles title to their name.

Expect change, perhaps both in the polls and on the court.

  • More photos

    • Alona Bondarenko (UKR)Sara Errani, Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci (ITA)
    • A young fanAlona Bondarenko (UKR)
    • Flavia Pennetta (ITA)Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)
    • Flavia Pennetta (ITA)Alona Bondarenko (UKR)
    • Captain Corrado Barazzutti and Flavia Pennetta (ITA)Italy at the opening ceremony
    • Francesca Schiavone (ITA)

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