CHARLEROI, BELGIUM: Never let it be said that Fed Cup by BNP Paribas means little to today’s top players. You only had to look at the relief in the eyes of Yanina Wickmayer and the delight etched on to the face of Petra Kvitova as they ground out precious points for their nations, to leave Belgium and Czech Republic all square at the end of day one of this World Group semifinal clash.
Kvitova admitted to feeling nervous as she made hard work of defeating Kirsten Flipkens 62 76(4). The Czech No. 1 stormed through the first set in less than half an hour, at which point Flipkens feared the worst.
She admitted afterwards: “At the beginning it was not easy as I’m not used to playing against a top 20 player every week, so it was a big challenge. In the first set I was still finding my game, but was much more aggressive in the second set.”
Indeed she was, attacking the ball early, seemingly quicker across the court and not allowing her opponent to settle. The Belgian even had a break of serve in the second set, but swiftly squandered that, allowing Kvitova to take it on the tie-break.
Kvitova said: “I was nervous all match so it was tough for me. I had a good start but she played better and better.”
The key, though, was that Kvitova had got the point. The Czechs were up and running.
Wickmayer against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova followed, and they served up a cracking match. Zahlavova Strycova enjoyed a break in the first set, but watched as Wickmayer got into her leggy stride. Belgium’s leading player snatched the first set 64, but was made to sweat in the second.
Zahlavova Strycova was punching low returns, scurrying across court and finding a way past the long reach of Wickmayer. Even in the tenth game of the second set, with Wickmayer serving for the match, Zahlavova Strycova refused to buckle. Advantage Czech Republic. Deuce. Advantage Belgium. Back to deuce. Two gutsy performers taking the boisterous crowd on a rollercoaster ride, until the feisty Czech finally succumbed. Wickmayer triumphed 64 64.
She commented: “They were two tough sets. She’s a tough opponent and it was a fight from the beginning to the end.”
All square at the end of day. All eyes now turn to Sunday, with this tie still very much in the balance. Belgian captain Sabine Appelmans denies that they may have the momentum, despite watching Flipkens fight back and Wickmayer triumph.
“It’s a different day, and different matches,” she said. “We were very well prepared for Saturday’s matches. We knew how they played, but Yanina plays a different game to Kirsten so she will have to find a way to beat Kvitova with her game.”
Czech captain Petr Pala added: “We have a very strong team. Anybody can play and I think that it is going to be in our favour.”
Pala suggested that Sunday’s opening rubber, between Wickmayer and Kvitova, is more of a must-win for the home side. He feels his team has strength in depth, with the players able to turn things around should they go 2-1 down.
Wickmayer versus Kvitova is then followed by Flipkens against Zahlavova Strycova. The Czech player is aware that the fourth rubber could be decisive if matters go their way earlier on Sunday: “I like to play these matches. This is why I play tennis. Yes, I will be a little nervous, but you need these kind of nerves before such a big match.”
And should the two sides still be locked together at the end of the singles, then the doubles will be required to determine who proceeds to the final in November. Appelmans may not risk the 17-year-old pairing of Mestach and van Uytvanck, but she may be tempted to go with Mestach – the Australian Open junior champion in both singles and doubles – and the more experienced Wickmayer.
Watch the tie live on: FedCup.tv
Sabine Appelmans (BEL) - 16/04/2011
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 16/04/2011
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 16/04/2011
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) - 16/04/2011
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) - 16/04/2011