02/10/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/09/2018 21:55
What started shakily has ended successfully for Australian No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, whose 46 61 64 defeat of Lyudmyla Kichenok has given the host nation a 1-0 lead in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II tie against the Ukraine.
The result helped to validate the Australians' decision to install a drop-in grass court at the Canberra Tennis Centre for their first home tie in almost two years, with the surface Barty's favourite and the least familiar to the understrength Ukranian team.
Unaware she was about to play the first home singles rubber of her career, Barty said she and captain Alicia Molik had both felt goosebumps while listening to the national anthem during Saturday's opening ceremony. 'I think more than nerves it was excitement,'' Barty said of her emotions. 'You sort of have a little bit of jelly legs the first couple of games, but I felt like there was probably a fair bit of pressure on me today.''
And not just because Kichenok is no longer a regular singles player who could swing freely, but because the court was the choice of rat former junior Wimbledon champion. 'I don't want to say 'let's play on grass' and then not deliver,''Barty said. 'I feel like grass is my best surface and I know that when I play my best tennis I would probably beat most girls on a grass court, and I'm happy to come out and say that because I feel most comfortable on a grass court, and I think there's an extra boost when you're playing with the green and gold.''
An error-riddled match was over in just less than two hours, Barty pressed by a determined opponent who played far closer to her peak singles ranking of 156th than her current mark more than 700 places lower.
'It certainly wasn't my cleanest tennis throughout the whole match but obviously nice to come through and get us off to the perfect start,'' said Barty, hoping she could end her recent stretch of slow starts in Sunday's first reverse singles against Marta Kostyuk.
'I feel most comfortable and most at home on the grass court and I think I was able to come through and use a little bit of experience in the end there.''
The pair's only previous meeting had been in 2014 Wimbledon qualifying - same surface, but very different situation.
Barty, at 21, is now the world No. 16 and team spearhead. Kichenok, at 25, is the singles world No. 883, but a far more frequent doubles competitor selected for her first tie in four years n the absence of higher-ranked countrywomen such as Elina Svitolina and Lesia Tsurenko.
Yet, from a brisk 0-2 down, it was the rank outsider who played a superior first set, adjusting better to the challenging bounce on the specially-laid court and breaking Barty in the third and seventh games with strong, flat hitting mixed in with the occasional slice, as a nervous Barty struggled with her timing and tactics.
The match reverted closer to the expected script in the second set, Barty closing it out 61 in 26 minutes. The Australian was still not looking entirely comfortable in the early stages, but starting to serve far better as Kichenok's level dropped away.
Kichenok, who served 11 double faults, said that was the shot that proved most costly. ' I was just trying to play my game, to be aggressive, but unfortunately in the second set I lost the focus and I just think I lost my serve today and that's why I lost the match.''
Canberra's most famous tennis son, Nick Kyrgios, was spotted in the redeveloped centre that is also his training venue, as his opposite No. 1 battled to give Australia a 1-0 lead and pass the baton to 26th-ranked Daria Gavrilova, due next on court against 15-year-old wonder girl Kostyuk.