WASHINGTON, February 9, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
After two days of at times intense action, the field for the inaugural Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals in Budapest has been set. Eight teams competing across North and South America and Europe – the United States, Germany, Spain, Belarus, Switzerland, Russia, Belgium and Slovakia – emerged to join defending champion France, finalist Australia, wild card entry Czech Republic and host Hungary for the Fed Cup Finals April 14-19, which will be played on indoor red clay. The draw for the Finals will take place on Tuesday in Budapest.
Among the weekend’s stars were Spain’s Carla Suárez Navarro, who won two of her country’s three points against Japan, Laura Siegemund of Germany, who went undefeated against Brazil in an away tie, and Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who was also a double winner over the weekend. Also, three of the eight ties came down to the fifth rubber as the United States, Belarus and Russia prevailed and advanced on the strength of their doubles tandems.
As the doubles player here in the last match of the day, you don’t know if it’s going to count for something or if it’s all coming down to it. I’m ready for both. I have been in both situations. Either way, I was bringing my energy to cheer on my teammates and to bring it out on the court. … This is what we train for, representing the Stars and Stripes. The energy out there was amazing,” said Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who teamed with Sofia Kenin to beat Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevastova, 6-4, 6-0. Their win lifted the United States to a 3-2 tie victory over visiting Latvia in Everett, Wash., Saturday night.
Earlier, Latvia overcame a 0-2 deficit entering the second day and pulled even on the strength of a pair of singles victories by Ostapenko over Kenin and Sevastova against Serena Williams. However, the United States pulled through in back of Mattek-Sands and Kenin and booked its place in Budapest with the hope of adding to its record of 18 Fed Cup titles.
“Right now we’re very happy to have won this match against tough opponents,” said U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi. “The way they played, they could easily be contenders for Budapest, too. We should take a lot of confidence from this match, and really looking forward to April.”
Around the Fed Cup Qualifiers
Spain 3, Japan 1: Spain became the first country to qualify for the April finals with a 3-1 rout of Japan. Host Spain clinched the tie when Carla Suárez Navarro gave the Spanish a 3-0 lead with her 6-1, 6-3 win over Kurumi Nara, a replacement for Japanese No. 1 Naomi Osaka. On Friday, No. 78 Sara Sorribes Tormo shocked Osaka, 6-0, 6-3, which set the tone for the rest of the tie played on outdoor clay at La Manga Club in Cartagena, Murcia, Spain. Suárez Navarro won both of her rubbers in her final Fed Cup appearance on home soil and now has 18 Fed Cup singles victories. Japan’s only point came during the dead rubber doubles.
“We were expecting a tough tie, but tennis is like this sometimes,” Spanish team captain Anabel Medina Garrigues said, quoted by the Fed Cup website. “I’m super happy that we have qualified for Budapest. Carla is one of the best players in the history of Spain and I’m more than proud of her.
“When I took over it was always my goal to try to win the title again. We have five from a long time ago. Now is the moment we want to fight for a sixth.”
— Carla Suárez Navarro (@CarlaSuarezNava) February 8, 2020
Belarus 3, Netherlands 2: Down but never out on indoor clay in The Hague, Belarus recovered from a 2-1 deficit and beat the host Netherlands in the decisive fifth rubber. Doubles world No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich came through with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8) win over Kiki Bertens and Demi Schuurs. Earlier Saturday, Sasnovich beat Arantxa Rus in three sets, 0-6, 7-5, 6-2, after Bertens prevailed over Sabalenka, 6-4, 6-4, for her 20th career Fed Cup singles victory.
With a trip to the finals riding on the outcome of the final set of the tie in the doubles rubber – and with a total of six service breaks and only two holds producing a 5-5 score in the third set, Bertens and Schuurs pushed ahead 6-5 and were two points from victory. However, Sabalenka guided Belarus into a tie-break. After squandering two match points, Sabalenka finally ended the tie-break with an overhead winner up the middle that lifted Belarus.
Germany 4, Brazil 0: Two-time Fed Cup champions Germany advanced with a shutout of host Brazil in Florianópolis. No. 72 Laura Siegemund contributed two of the German’s four points with victories over Teliana Pereira and Gabriela Ce. Her 6-1, 6-2 win over Ce gave Germany an unassailable 3-0 lead on clay.
Antonia Lottner and Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany won the doubles dead rubber over Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani, 6-1, 6-4.
“Maybe, sometimes, it looks easier than it was,” Siegemund said. “We have almost no German fans, except our box so it’s not easy. Also, the weather conditions – I think the Brazilians are more used to it because it is their kind of weather, but for us this was very hot. But anyway, we managed. We had to work hard and deal with the circumstances and I’m proud of us.”
Brazil’s captain Roberta Burzagli complimented Germany‘s team. She said: “Germany’s number one player, Laura Siegemund, is very complete, competitive and intelligent. She ends up closing all the possibilities for her opponents to make the points. Tatjana Maria serves very well and has clever strokes with great variations. She plays in a different way than most players.”
Switzerland 3, Canada 1: The Swiss celebrated captain Heinz Gunthardt’s 61st birthday in Biel in style. Coming into Saturday with a 2-0 lead, Canada rallied behind 17-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez, who upset World No. 5 Belinda Bencic, 6-2, 7-6 (3). However, Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann clinched the tie with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Gaby Dabrowski, a doubles specialist who was a fill-in for injured Bianca Andreescu (knee) and Genie Bouchard (wrist).
The left-handed Fernandez’s profile was elevated during the qualifier because of the injuries to Andreescu and Bouchard and the reigning Roland Garros junior champion, who was playing in just her second match against a Top 50 player and third Fed Cup match overall, played calm and composed. She broke Bencic for an early 2-0 lead in the opening set, then played steady in the second set tie-break and won three of the final four points.
“I could have played a little bit better here and there and on the important points served a little bit better but at the end of the day she was really solid and mentally strong,” said Bencic in describing Fernandez. “She really deserved the win. Already, she’s a great player at 17 years old.”
Russia 3, Romania 2: Russia advanced over host and 2019 semifinalist Romania at Cluj-Napoca by winning the decisive doubles rubber. With six of Romania’s top seven players not available, including World No. 2 Simona Halep, it was remarkable that the Romanians pushed the tie to the limit.
However, Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova won both of her rubbers, including a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 pivotal win over Ana Bogdan that gave her country a 2-1 lead. The tie came down to doubles and Anna Blinkova and Anna Kalinskaya, both 21, prevailed over Jacqueline Arina Cristian and Elena Gabriela Ruse, 6-3, 6-2 to advance the Russians to Budapest.
“When the crowd were singing, I was singing with them – and this was very joyful for me,” said Blinkova. “The best way to block out the noise is by joining them. It’s really bad if you get mad against their noise – you can enjoy it with them!
“We showed character and spirit as a team – and we were grateful to our team bench. There were not many of them but they were encouraging, and louder than any of the Romanians in the stadium.”
Belgium 3, Kazakhstan 1: Tied 1-1 after the first day, host Belgium won both singles rubbers to beat Kazakhstan in Kortrijk and advance to Budapest. Belgian No. 1 Elise Mertens beat Yulia Putintseva, 6-1, 7-6 (1), then Kirsten Flipkens, appearing in her 29th Fed Cup tie, defeated Zarina Diyas, 6-3, 6-4.
“It was very special,” said Flipkens. “This will be one to remember, especially because it’s been a while since we won at home. To win the deciding point really means a lot to me personally.”
Slovakia 3, Great Britain 1: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova guided host Slovakia into the April finals with her 7-5, 6-3 win over Harriet Dart, a day after beating British No. 1 Heather Watson 6-2, 6-3. It was Great Britain’s fifth consecutive away tie loss.
Down 0-2, Watson kept the British hopes alive with a 6-0, 7-5 triumph of Rebecca Sramkova, who filled in for ailing Slovakian No. 1 Viktoria Kuzmova. However, Schmiedlova, who is back playing after missing the second half of 2019 due to knee surgery, gutted out a one-hour and 42-minute win against Dart on indoor clay in Bratislava. She was rewarded for her effort with multiple celebratory tosses in the air by her teammates and captain.
According to a Fed Cup tweet, tickets to Brazil’s home tie against Germany at the Costão do Santinho Resort in Florianópolis were free. In exchange, fans were asked to donate 1kg of food to Centre Espirita Casa de Jesus, a charity houes from Balneario Camboriu. It’s estimated that half a ton of food was donated.