Daria Gavrilova and Storm Sanders handed Australia a surprising 2-1 win over Belgium in Group B of the Billie Jean King Cup final tournament in Prague yesterday.
In the other afternoon tie, Russia sent Monday’s heroes Canada packing with a convincing 3-0 win in Group A.
Dubbed the world cup of women’s tennis, the Billie Jean King Cup is a rebranded version of the Fed Cup, played in a tournament format. Twelve teams divided in four groups vie for four spots in Friday’s semi-finals, granted to the group winners. The final tie is scheduled for Saturday.
Fed Cup finalists from 2019, Australia are without world number one Ashleigh Barty and they rested their highest-ranked player Ajla Tomljanovic yesterday.
Belgium had in turn eased past Belarus 2-1 on Monday and any win over Australia would have sent them straight into the semi-finals.
But Gavrilova, the world number 412 who had played her last competitive game at the Australian Open in February, would have nothing of that as she saw off 70th-ranked Greet Minnen 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.
The Russian-born Gavrilova, a former world number 20, struggled with her serve at times, but she managed to break Minnen’s serve when she needed it most, including in the last game of the third set.
“I’m feeling pretty exhausted, it’s been a long process to get here, ten months off,” said Gavrilova, who had undergone an Achilles tendon surgery after the Australian Open.
“I’m exhausted and really happy. I probably never had this much motivation in my life,” she added. Sanders, ranked 33rd, then beat 18th-ranked Elise Mertens 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-0. The Australian lost the first set on two breaks, but fought back to take the second in a tie-break as Mertens’s game plan collapsed while Sanders, spotless on the return, took the final set to love.
“That was the most incredible feeling, I’m still shaking. But I played really, really well,” Sanders said.
“I was confident coming out and even though the first set didn’t go my way, I felt like I was creating opportunities for myself to get that second set.”
Mertens and Minnen then saved the day for Belgium, beating Ellen Perez and Sanders 6-2, 6-4 in the doubles, knowing that a 3-0 loss would eliminate them from the semi-finals.
Russia, who have brought five top-40 players to Prague, left little doubt they meant business as they eased past Canada who had stunned reigning champions France 2-1 on Monday.
Daria Kasatkinova swept Carol Zhao 6-3, 6-1 and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova then beat Rebecca Marino 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
“Very pleased of course, any win especially here in this competition is very important, and when you play in a team, the only goal for you is to win,” said Pavlyuchenkova.
Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova then thrashed Gabriela Dabrowski and Marino 6-3, 6-1 for a 3-0 win that sent Canada home despite Monday’s heroics.
Russia are facing France in the Group A decider today while Australia will take on Belarus the next day.
Later, the United States will play against Slovakia in Group C and Germany face Switzerland in Group D, with both groups set to remain open until the last ties as well.
Daria Gavrilova of Australia reacts after defeating Greet Minnen of Belgium in the group match of the Billie Jean King Cup finals at the O2 Arena in Prague yesterday. (AFP)