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
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.
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.
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.
Great Britain Handed Tough Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers Draw Against Czech Republic
Great Britain have a tough test in the Czech Republic in the BJK Cup qualifiers in April.
Great Britain will need to beat the Czech Republic away if they want to qualify for next year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals after the draw was made today.
Anne Keothavong’s team beat Mexico earlier in the year to earn a place in the qualifiers next year.
However in today’s draw, Great Britain will need to overcome a huge test as they will go to the Czech Republic next April.
Czech Republic have won six of the last nine Billie Jean King Cups and boast the likes of Karolina Pliskova, Barbora Krejcikova, Marketa Vondrousova, Katarina Siniakova and Petra Kvitova.
Speaking after the draw Keothavong is looking forward to the test that awaits them in April, “The team are really looking forward to taking on Czech Republic in our 2022 qualifier and hopefully continuing our momentum in the Billie Jean King Cup next year,” she told skysports.com.
The Czechs are currently hosting this year’s finals and fell at the semi-final stage after losing a tight match to Switzerland.
Other key matches sees a repeat of this year’s group stage match between Belgium and Belarus while USA will host Elina Svitolina’s Ukraine team.
Here are the ties with the qualifiers taking place on the 15-16th of April next year with the finals happening next November:
Czech Republic v Great Britain
Australia v Slovakia
France v Italy
USA v Ukraine
Belarus v Belgium
Germany v Kazakhstan
Canada v Latvia
Spain v Netherlands
Russia sends Canada packing on day 2 of the Billie Jean King Cup
Daria Kasatkina featured in Russia’s 3-0 win over Canada in the Billie Jean King Cup today.
The Russians were too good for the Canadians to overcome and they won all three rubbers.
Canada is officially going home after losing three straight rubbers to Russia in the morning session of day two at the Billie Jean King Cup in Prague on Court one.
Bad news for Canada
The day didn’t get off to good start for Canada as during their morning warm-up Francoise Abanda injured her toe and upon review decided she wouldn’t be able to play. Carol Zhao was subbed in for Abanda and played the first rubber against Daria Kasatkina.
Kasatkina gives first blood to Russia
The first three games of the first set went on serve and it was the Russian who earned the first breakpoint of the match and broke the Canadian to take a 3-1 lead but was broken the following game and the set went back on serve.
At 4-3, the world number 28 had another chance to break and once again broke as she won the first set.
The second set again stayed on serve for the first two games and again it was the Russian who broke first and managed to turn that break into a double break as she broke Zhao one last time to win the match.
Pavlyuchenkova handles Marino
Next up was Rebecca Marino from Vancouver up against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and the first four games were pretty tight and both players did a good job holding serve.
it was the Russian who was able to get the first break of serve to take a 3-2 lead and that was enough for her to serve out the first set and take it 6-4. The second set stayed on serve until 5-4 when Marino had three set points on her opponent’s serve and got the crucial break to send the match into a deciding third set.
The world number 12 was keen to get the win and pushed hard in the opening game of the third set and broke the Canadian to take an early 1-0 lead. At 3-1, the Russian earned five chances to break and go up a double break and it took her until the fifth one to break again.
Pavlyuchenkova served out the set and the match at 5-2 to seal the win and the tie for Russia.
Russia wins dead rubber doubles match
For the third and final match, a dead rubber doubles match was played between Marino and Gabriela Dabrowski facing off against the Russian duo of Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmilla Samsonova.
It was indeed the Russian who ended up with another straight-sets win beating the Canadians 6-3, 6-1 in 53 minutes to end the tie with a 3-0 victory and a win away against France on Wednesday from the semi-finals.
Canada Shocks France on day 1 of the Billie Jean King Cup
Canada are off to a winning start at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.
Despite missing their two best players and being major underdogs Canada caused a major upset beating the defending champions from France.
Canada is officially top of the group after beating France 2-1 over three rubbers which included singles and doubles. Francoise Abanda took on Fiona Ferro while Rebecca Marino faced the veteran Alize Cornet.
In doubles, Marino and Gabriela Dabrowski teamed up to play against the French duo of Clara Burel and Cornet in a decisive tie deciding doubles match rubber.
Abanda gets past Ferro
Francoise Abanda was a very interesting story coming into this year’s edition of the Billie Jean King Cup as she hadn’t played in over a year and after contracting Covid made her return in Prague at the O2 Arena.
Currently ranked at 353 in the world she did a good job hanging with Ferro who is currently ranked at 105 and the first set stayed on serve until 2-2 when it was the Canadian who got the first break of serve.
She wasn’t able to consolidate the break and it went back on serve and at 5-4, the world number 105 had a set point and was able to serve out the first to give first blood to France.
Winning the first set seemed to motivate Ferro and she managed to break in the first game of the second set and jump out to a 2-0 lead but the Canadian bounced back and won the next two games.
She broke once again to take a 3-2 lead and that break was enough for her to force a third and deciding set.
The third set stayed on serve with both players having great chances to break but couldn’t convert and at 1-1 it was the Canadian who got the early break and that one break sufficed to serve out the match and the win.
Cornet evens the tie
The Vancouver native faced the world number 59 from Nice and it was the Canadian who jumped out a 2-0 lead in the first set but the lead couldn’t hold and Cornet won two straight games.
She then got the crucial break for a 3-2 lead and that break was just enough for her to serve out the first set.
The world number 59 continued to roll and broke in the third game of the second set but at 3-2 the world number 148 broke right back to level the set at 3-3 and the set was decided by a tiebreaker.
Marino jumped out to a 2-0 lead and turned that into a 4-1 lead when the Nice native mounted a comeback and won three straight points to level the breaker at four.
At 6-5, Cornet had a match point and she took it to level the tie at one rubber apiece and the tie was decided by a decisive doubles rubber.
Deciding Doubles Rubber
Dabrowski who is a top 10 player in doubles showed why that is in the first set when she and Marino managed to get the first break of the match for a 2-1 lead.
That one break of serve again proved to be crucial as she served out the first set and Canada was one set away from a major win.
The second set stayed on serve until 3-2 when the duo of Burel and Cornet got the first break of serve but at 5-3 when serving for the set was broken and the set was decided by a tiebreaker.
The tiebreak was back and forth and at 6-5 France had a set point to send it to a match tiebreak but Canada managed to save it and at 7-6 broke serve one final to seal the win and the tie.
Canada will once again play in the morning session on day two as they will face Russia and a win against the Russians will send them through past the group stage and into the knockout round.
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