Czechs put one foot in Final
This is exactly how the Czechs dreamed it. Two-nil up after the first day, four sets out of four and a boisterous home crowd sent home ecstatic. The defending champions of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas already have half a racquet in another final.
Lucie Safarova impressively got the ball rolling for the Czechs, dispatching the Italian No. 1 Francesca Schiavone 76 61. It was a largely fluid display from the 25-year-old, though initially she didn’t make it easy for herself.
Safarova took advantage of Schiavone’s stuttering serve to break in the opening game, but once the World No. 12 overcame four early foot faults she began to settle into the match. Her chance came with Safarova two points away from the set. The Czech – who went into the match having won just five of her 15 Fed Cup rubbers – tightened up and was broken.
The former Roland Garros champion was so fired up that she held to love and looked almost certain to steal the set, holding two set points at 15-40 up in the following game. Three deuces followed before eventually Safarova clung on to force the tiebreak, saving a total of three set points after finding some of her best serves of the match.
The momentum had swung again with Schiavone disgusted with herself for not taking her opportunities, throwing an empty bottle to the floor in contempt at 1-5 down in the tiebreak. That was too much of a gap to bridge and Safarova took it 7-3 with a typical forehand winner and never looked back.
Schiavone was trying to beat her opponent for the first time in four attempts on hard courts, but Safarova’s confidence was sky high and this was illustrated by her increasingly varied choices of shot, regularly finishing points off with deft volleys at the net.
This left Schiavone looking short of answers and as a result she quickly fell behind at the start of the second set. It looked yet bleaker for her when she received medical attention at 1-4 because of a back problem she says she’s felt for the last “10 to 15 days”.
Safarova’s rhythm wasn’t to be disrupted though and she eased past the finish line. She said: “I feel amazing with so many people here cheering for you which gives you huge power.”
It’s no surprise she felt so much inspiration from the Czech support given their energy has been building up for over two years since their last home tie.
Schiavone, who was as downbeat as her conqueror was beaming, admitted afterwards: “I had my chance, but I didn’t catch it…I couldn’t play the best.”
The Czech onlookers were given even more to cheer about in the second rubber, though it didn’t look as if that would be the case when Sara Errani admirably battled against the world No. 3 and the partisan crowd to earn an early break. The problem was that Kvitova looked most hungry on the return of serve and immediately levelled up at 2-2 in the first set.
The Czech was looking for her ninth successive win in Fed Cup and she was unrelenting in attempting as many winners as possible. Though this naturally brought a higher number of unforced errors, she peaked at the right moment getting the break at the end of the set as she devoured Errani’s weakening serve.
Errani says one of the players she admires the most is David Ferrer and some of the Spaniard’s doggedness was visible in the way she broke Kvitova immediately at the start of the second set before grinding out a 3-1 lead.
That would be as good as it got for the world No. 28 as Kvitova stormed back demonstrating the kind of skill that led her to her Wimbledon title. A string of forehand winners and even some sumptuous net play saw her seal it with five consecutive games.
Reflecting afterwards Kvitova said: “I had to play a really tough match especially after Sara played so well last week.” Playing in front of many fans who made the 30-minute journey from her home town of Fulnek, she added: “They really helped me a lot. Without them it would be boring. I’m really happy to be playing close to home after two years.”
Despite a defeat that leaves her country in a perilous position, Errani was able to recognise her opponent was just too strong, saying: “I had my chances, but unfortunately it went like that. I think she closed both sets very well.”
Czech captain Petr Pala couldn’t have been more pleased with his charges, saying: “I’m very proud of my girls, but we still have one more point to win. We’re still facing a very tough opponent and we have to concentrate. It’s definitely the best atmosphere we’ve played in Fed Cup. It definitely helps.”
If Italy are to be victorious this weekend they’ll have to do something they never have before and that’s to fight back from 0-2 down. It’s not impossible and the determination and belief within Errani remains unaffected. When asked if they can still reach the final she simply responded, “Yes, of course. We will try.”