02/05/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/05/2020 17:23
Sweden and Slovenia made big steps towards securing semi-final berths in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Group I event in Luxembourg as they prevailed on a rip-roaring opening day in their respective groups on Wednesday.
The Swedes had to dig deep for a 2-1 win over hosts Luxembourg, who missed their top-ranked player Mandy Minella through illness, while Slovenia overpowered Turkey by the same score.
Plain sailing appeared to be on the cards for Sweden after Mirjam Bjorklund brushed aside Tiffany Cornelius 6-1 6-3 to put them in the driving seat before Eleonora Molinaro sprung the shock of the day with a 0-6 6-3 6-1 defeat of Johanna Larsson to redress the balance.
Roared on by a fervent home crowd in the Esch-sur-Alzette National Tennis Centre, Luxemburg edged towards what would have amounted to a stunning upset when Cornelius and Molinaro took a 3-1 lead against Larsson and Cornelia Lister in the decisive doubles.
However, the more experienced Swedish duo recovered to take the opening set and then raced through the second for a comfortable 6-4 6-1 win which finally forced the home side into submission.
Bjorklund's effervescent performance gave Cornelius no chance in a one-sided opening singles rubber as the Swede rained in a barrage of winners, having won nine games in a row after the home crowd favourite got the match underway by holding serve.
The 31-year old Cornelius, who conceded she only trained once a week at this stage of her career, was unable to cope with her rival's pace and tenacity, although she staged a brief comeback in the second set when she won three games in a row after losing the opening three.
Bjorklund was confident Sweden could return to the Fed Cup's upper tiers in the foreseeable future if they managed to advance to the Fed Cup play-offs from a fiercely competitive six-nation tournament in Luxembourg.
'To be honest, this group we are in is very strong in general and all teams here are strong in their own different ways and styles. It totally depends on the day but if we play well here, we have a good chance,' she said.
Sweden's top-ranked singles player Larsson looked in total control against Molinaro after taking the opening set in just 29 minutes without dropping a game.
Astonishingly, Luxembourg's 19-year old prodigy turned the contest on its head as she pegged back her better-ranked and more experienced rival in the second set before blowing the Swede away in the third.
With the home fans brandishing Luxembourg flags and cheering her on, Molinaro rifled in some searing backhand winners to unnerve her opponent, who still looked shell-shocked for the best part of the opening set in the doubles.
But Lister stepped up at crunch time for Sweden, engineering their first-set fightback to give the Scandinavians the edge in the tie before battling Luxembourg finally ran out of steam in the second set.
To retain any chance of staying in the hunt for a last-four berth, Luxembourg must beat the Fed Cup's 2012 runners-up Serbia on Thursday, before the Serbians lock horns with Sweden on Friday.
Molinaro had mixed emotions about the outcome of the day's riveting action.
'It was tough for me physically in the doubles after playing three sets in my singles rubber,' she said.
'As far as the singles rubber is concerned, Johanna is clearly the best player of the two and although the score in the opening set didn't really reflect the proceedings, I knew I had to change my strategy.'
'It worked and I was delighted to come out on top but winning the doubles was always going to be a difficult task.'
'We hope to have Mandy back for the tie against Serbia, who are probably the best team in our pool. If not, I am ready to step up again.'
Slovenia's Kaja Juvan and Basak Eraydin of Turkey produced a memorable contest in its own right, as both players struggled to hold serve on the indoor hard court.
Juvan, who ran out a 6-4 7-5 winner, broke her opponent's serve a staggering eight times while Eraydin managed to clinch six break points from 10 attempts.
The Slovenian had the last laugh though, as she managed to hold serve when it mattered most and attributed the extraordinary nature of her victory to a tricky surface, as well as Eraydin's late errors.
'The surface is pretty slow here so the serves aren't as efficient as they are on a faster surface and the bounce is pretty low too,' Juvan said.
'It was a tough match but I tried to play my game and focus. The match is not lost when you're down a few games and I think I did pretty well in the end. She gave me a few chances and I am glad I was able to take them.'
Pemra Ozgen put Turkey back on level terms with a hard-fought 6-3 5-7 6-2 victory over Tamara Zidansek, who looked flat and bereft of ideas in the third set.
The tie went down to the wire as the doubles took centre stage and Zidansek quickly regained her composure, teaming up with Dalila Jakupovic to beat Turkey's Ayla Aksu and Ipek Oz 6-0 6-4.
Zidansek's firm volleying complemented Jakupovic's big serve and Slovenia's team captain Andrej Krasevec was able to breathe a sigh of relief ahead of Thursday's tussle with Poland.
'We had hoped to win both singles rubbers but Tamara was a little bit below par so we had to work hard for this win,' he said.
'The Turkish team threatened to stage a comeback in the doubles too so it's a good thing that we managed to wrap it up in straight sets. We now have to get some rest before we face Poland as they are going to be a tough prospect.'