Fed Cup play-off: USA leads Australia 2-0 after day 1, thanks to a formidable Keys and a solid McHale - UBITENNIS
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Fed Cup

Fed Cup play-off: USA leads Australia 2-0 after day 1, thanks to a formidable Keys and a solid McHale

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Keys displays a powerful and confident tennis to frustrate the maiden Fed Cup rubber  of Gavrilova, whereas McHale wins a dramatic rubber against Stosur

 

 

Fed Cup play-off, day 1: Australia USA 0-2

From Brisbane Robbie Cappuccio

Australian and USA Fed Cup teams at Pat Rafter Arena, Brisbane

Australian and USA Fed Cup teams at Pat Rafter Arena, Brisbane

For sure not the result people (OK at least I) were expecting at the end of day one in Brisbane, and USA one step from victory.
Sunny, humid and 25C in Brisbane today, worth a couple of hours of plane trip from a rainy Melbourne. Sunny, but the Pat Rafter Arena (crowded with kids) is actually permanently covered with a plexiglass roof and artificial lights are on; “It’s an indoor-outdoor clay court, more indoor than outdoor, but not as fast” says Madison Keys in the after match press conference. Yes, because for the event the Pat Rafter Arena has been resurfaced with clay to give Stosur (semi-finalist in 2012 and a finalist in 2010 at the French Open) and Gavrilova (quarterfinal in Rome last year) an edge. The odds were in Keys’ favour and she did deliver, displaying a great condition and an arm that is ultimate power, whereas Gavrilova was a little bit too tense in her maiden rubber wearing green-and-gold. The result of the second single though was surprising, with Christina McHale winning over Sam Stosur, after trailing 1 set down.

 

Madison Keys (USA) d. Daria Gavrilova (AUS)  6-4 6-2

The stats describe pretty well the match: 28 winners for Keys, 4 for Gavrilova. I could stop here, but the match has been a little bit more than that.

USA wins the toss and elects to receive. Both players are tense at the beginning, with Keys hitting her forehand a couple of meters long or in the net, whilst Gavrilova – at her maiden tie in Fed Cup – playing spider/windshield wiper, running from one side of the baseline to the other spinning her web often with lobs to deter Keys’ violent hitting. And here comes the notorious 7th game with Dasha facing two break points: she double faults (talking about butterflies …) and USA takes the lead and consolidates despite Keys having to save two break points herself. Keys alternates excellent moments where she takes control of the rally, especially with the inside-out forehand to a series of unforced errors, and I mean hitting the base of the net or going 2 meters long. Regardless of her unforced errors (which we must say are helped by Gavrilova’s intelligent strategy), her stroke  is more something like a surface to surface missile: the violence with which she hits the ball is intimidating, to say the least. It’s 5-4 Keys who is on serve: Gavrilova helps her putting in the net an easy backhand volley, and the following inside-out forehand winner gives Keys two set points. Another winner (a total of 14 for her in the first set), initially called out but promptly corrected by the chair umpire gives USA the first set: 6-4.

In the second set Keys grows in intensity, whilst Gavrilova uses more a more the lob, being pushed meters outside the baseline. “I adjusted a little bit to her game in the second set, hitting high balls too often and not being aggressive enough” admits Gavrilova in the press conference. The key of the set comes early in the third game, with Gavrilova facing two consecutive break points and sending in the net an overhead from no more than one meter to the net. On 3-1 Keys, Gavrilova is again under pressure facing 3 consecutive break points, but shows her fighting spirit and holds. From that moment on though it’s a monologue by Keys hitting winner after winner: her returns to the Australian serve are as fast as deep, her inside out forehand is lethal. And with an inside out forehand, which forces Gavrilova to hit the net with her backhand, Keys takes the second set and the rubber in just over an hour and a quarter: 6-4 6-2.

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The gap today was too big, in terms of ball speed both in serve (170km/h for Keys with top of 194, 149km/h for Gavrilova who then had to face Keys’ return, twice as fast) and groundstrokes. Keys displayed great confidence which is now further boosted and puts her in a great mental position tomorrow against Stosur. “Tomorrow is another day” concludes a very disappointed Gavrilova, who was though able to smile during the press conference. “It’s a team competition, we win as a team and lose as a team. McHale plays similar to me and I defeated her last year in Rome“.

 

Christina McHale (USA) d. Sam Stosur (AUS) 3-6 6-1 7-5

Hopes to level the tie by Australia are on Sam Stosur. Ha, what’s in the mindset! What huge role the mindset played in Sam Stosur’s career?!? A chess game between the two players who play similar from a tactical point of view: long rallies, a forehand full of top spin (especially Stosur’s), often inside-out, and alternating a sliced backhand to a flat one. The first set is actually good tennis, with good court coverage by both players. Stosur’s class and experience prevail and Sam is up 5-2 and set point. Then something slowly happens and she turns into the one who is one step from victory and then gives up. McHale saves the set point to hold serve and then other three set points on Stosur’s serve. The Aussie eventually takes the set with a sort of half volley from the baseline, but foreboding signs are all there. And there you have the momentum swing: Stosur appears confused, cannot hit a ball, and makes an unforced error after the other. On 3-0 McHale, Stosur send two balls to the roof, and two to the stands, then losing the next game to love. The set ends 6-1 in less than half an hour and Stosur is so stunned that starts the third set by walking to the wrong end, realising it when she finds herself on the baseline, next to McHale!! The Aussie has to immediately face two break points, but manages to survive and refocus. The match goes back to what it was in the first set, but McHale is much more solid than before. Long rallies, great intensity and nice shots, e.g. a backhand stop volley by McHale which brings her to 2 all. Stosur is confident again, but the unforced errors (a total of 44 in the match for Stosur, against 33 for McHale) still exceed the winners (27 for the Australian, 34 for the American). The seventh game is dramatic, to say the least: 15-30 and then ace by Stosur, followed by a backhand winner by McHale and first break point. Stosur saves and then misses an easy backhand passing shot giving the second break point, which she saves in a long rally which resembles an arm wrestling fight. And so on for a total of 6 break points, which Stosur saves to then hold serve: the Pat Rafter Arena explodes in cheering and chanting for the 4-3 Australia. It’s a big momentum swing, but Stosur cannot exploit the moment. Or maybe it’s McHale who does not look too bothered. “I just tried to refocus and do not think back but forward” said McHale at the press conference. Oh boy, if she refocuses! Straight back to 4 all and then 5 all. Stosur serves so and so and two unforced errors give the game and the edge to the American. It’s a big blow and Stosur is now very tense: during the change of ends she smashes the water bottle to the ground and the patting on the leg by captain Alicia Molik does not do much. McHale has got the one occasion and does not let it slip, grabbing it quickly: 7-5.

Mary Joe Fernandez and Christina McHale at the press conference

Mary Joe Fernandez and Christina McHale at the press conference

At the press conference, Mary Joe Fernández, US captain, cannot hide her joy for the victories and the choice of McHale on Vanderweghe for the singles.”So far, so good” she says “we evaluated how the players were on the surface, how they were practicing, how they were feeling and then we took the decision” a winning decision indeed. “Now it’s an enormeous task for us” Alicia Molik realistically comments.

Fed Cup

Australia Ousts Great Britain In Thriller To Reach BJK Cup Final

The host nation narrowly missed out on a place in the final but they have plenty of positives to motivate them for the future.

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The British Billie Jean King Cup team (image via LTA Twitter)

Australia has denied Great Britain an opportunity to play in their first team final since 1981 after prevailing 2-1 in an epic tussle at the Billie Jean King Cup in Glasgow. 

 

The gripping tie was level at 1-1 after each team won one of the singles matches, paving the way for a winner-takes-all doubles encounter. The British team featured Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls who were both making their debut in the competition this week. Their opponents were former Grand Slam winner Sam Stosur and world No.10 doubles player Storm Sanders.

Despite the gap in experience between the two pairings, there was almost nothing to distinguish between the two throughout the majority of their encounter which lasted more than two hours. Nevertheless, the Australian duo held their nerve to seal a 7-6(1), 6-7(5), 10-6, victory to send them into the final. 

“That was amazing. it could have gone either way and credit to the GB girls they played really well. They will be here again for sure.” Sanders said during her on-court interview. 

It is only the second time in the past 30 years that Australia has progressed to the final after 2019. Before playing Great Britain, they also defeated Belgium and Slovakia in the group stages. 

“A real credit to the four players out on court that was pretty inspirational, so I hope it inspires a lot more of you out there to play doubles. It was really such a high level you couldn’t pick it in the end.” Australian captain Alicia Molik commented on the doubles match. 

Earlier in the day, Australia got off to the perfect start with Sanders edging her way past Heather Watson 6-4, 7-6(3). However, the host nation battled back with an impressive performance from Harriet Dart who defeated Ajla Tomljanović 7-6(3), 6-2. A player who has reached the quarter-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open this year. 

“The Billie Jean King Cup just brings the best out of me. I love playing in front of a home crowd, and I feel like I have really been feeding off my teammates and everyone here. It just makes me really want to do really well.” Said Dart. 

The performances from the underdogs provide Britain with plenty of hope for the future. The nation lost in qualifying earlier this year but managed to enter the finals via wildcard due to the competition being held in their country. 

“I’m just gutted for everyone right now but also I think we have to try and keep things in perspective,” British captain Keothavong told reporters. 
“What a fantastic week it has been for the team. I don’t know how many people gave us much of a chance really to even come through the group stages.’
“It really is a fantastic achievement to reach the semifinals but we felt we could have gone further. That’s why it hurts so much.
“It’s going to hurt the players for a while but they’ll (the team) get over it. They can still hold their heads high because they have shown what they are capable of under a huge amount of pressure to deliver, and in the end, it came down to a few points.”

Australia will next play either Switzerland or the Czech Republic in the final. They are seeking to win the trophy for the first time since 1974.

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Fed Cup

Great Britain Looking To Overcome ‘Experienced’ Australia In Billie Jean King Cup Semis

Great Britain will play their first Billie Jean King Cup semi-final for 40 years when they play Australia on Saturday.

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(@the_LTA - Twitter)

Great Britain plays their first Billie Jean King Cup semi-final for 40 years when they face Australia in the last four in Glasgow on Saturday.

 

It was a heroic effort from Great Britain on Thursday as they battled past Spain to reach the last four at the Billie Jean King Cup.

Having lost to Kazakhstan 2-1 in their opening match, they knew they had to beat Spain 3-0 to qualify for the semi-finals.

But step up Heather Watson, Harriet Dart and the doubles team of Olivia Nicholls and Alicia Barnett, as they pulled off a massive upset to seal a place in the semi-finals.

Speaking after the win against Spain, Great Britain’s captain Anne Keothavong praised the doubles pairing of Barnett and Nicholls, “It’s down to their doubles win on Tuesday night (in a 2-1 loss to Kazakhstan) that kept us in this competition,” Keothavong was quoted by tennis365 as saying.

“I think if you watch that match, it’s hard not to feel the joy and the camaraderie between the players. It really truly was infectious.

“I think also Liv and Liss bring something different to the team which we haven’t had before. It’s not just the fact that they specialise in doubles but they have had a life outside of tennis.”

Now Great Britain look to repeat the success of the 1981 side as they look to beat Australia and reach the final.

It will be no easy task though with an in-form Ajla Tomljanovic, Ellen Perez, Storm Sanders and Sam Stosur standing in their way.

Keothavong admitted it will be a tough match but also noted that momentum is on Great Britain’s side, “They are a tough team,” Britain’s captain admitted.

“They are a team with plenty of experience in this competition. But look, we have to believe, and we’re on a high at the moment.”

That semi-final is the first semi-final before reigning champions Switzerland face the Czech Republic at 16:00 GMT.

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Fed Cup

‘Sky’s The Limit’ – Great Britain Storm Into First Billie Jean King Cup Semis In Over 40 Years

The underdogs have exceeded expectations in front of their home fans in Glasgow.

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The British Billie Jean King Cup team (image via https://twitter.com/the_LTA)

British captain Anne Keothavong said it was ‘wonderful’ to watch her team pull off a sensational 3-0 win over Spain at the Billie Jean King Cup on Thursday. 

 

After suffering a loss to Kazakhstan earlier in the week, team GB entered their latest tie knowing they have to win all three of their matches without dropping a set if they want to progress to the semi-final stages. Despite having the odds against them, they managed to surge to victory. 

Heather Wason thrashed Nuria Perrizas 6-0, 6-2, who is ranked 50 places higher than her in the WTA standings. Then Harriet Dart stunned world No.13 Paula Badosa 6-3, 6-4, in just over 90 minutes. To put that victory into perspective, Dart has only beaten one top-10 player in her career, which was Daria Kasatkina at the US Open earlier this year. 

“I’m just so proud to represent my country, to be able to also perform on home soil in front of a home crowd. Doesn’t get more special than that,” Hart told reporters afterwards.
“My goal was to make it as tough as possible out there for her, and I felt like I executed my game plan really well. I knew that all the pressure was on them because on paper she’s meant to beat me easily.”

On the verge of booking a place in the semi-finals, the tie came down to the doubles match. Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls only found out they were playing in the competition for the first time in their careers last week. Despite their inexperience, the duo managed to pull off a shock 7-6(5), 6-2, win over Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova. 

“The sky’s the limit after what we have shown so far,” said Nicholls. “We were definitely underdogs in this group. No doubt about it.
“Both the singles girls, Harriet and Heather, getting unbelievable wins. We have shown what we can do on the doubles court at well. I don’t see there are any players or teams here that we shouldn’t walk onto court thinking we can’t beat. We will just keep going.”

The triumph makes it the first time Britain has reached the semi-finals since 1981 when the event was called the Federation Cup. Britain, who are currently ranked 17th in the team standings, only managed to qualify for the finals due to being the host nation. 

“It sure is (historic) – this is something really special,” said Keothavong.
“I’m just so proud of this team. Every single player on the team has done us proud, the team spirit has been high, and I just want to thank everyone who has come to support the British team here. It really makes the difference and we really appreciate the support.
“We want to put women’s sport and tennis on the map and the support you give us is helping us to create amazing memories.”

Britain will next take on Australia who coincidentally was the country they faced the last time they reached the semi-finals more than 40 years ago. Australia, which is headed by top-40 player Ajla Tomljanović,  has topped their group following a 3-0 win over Belgium and a 2-1 win over Slovakia. 

“We are not here to participate – we are here to try and win this event,” said team member Storm Saunders.
“Everyone on the team, it’s a priority for us to win. So, semi-finals is, yeah, a good step but we’re here for more.”

Britain is seeking to win the title for the first time in history and Australia is aiming to claim their first since 1974. 

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