Wollongong NSW 2500, Australia, 21 April 2018 | Matt Trollope
Ash Barty has produced a masterful display to level Australia’s Fed Cup tie against the Netherlands at 1-1 on Saturday.
After Lesley Kerkhove gave the Dutch team a perfect start by surprising Sam Stosur in the opening rubber, Barty marched onto the indoor hard court at Wollongong Entertainment Centre and brushed aside Fed Cup debutant Quirine Lemoine 6-0 6-2.
Barty is scheduled to return on Sunday to take on Kerkhove in the first of Sunday’s reverse singles rubbers, while Alicia Molik confirmed Daria Gavrilova will replace Stosur in singles action.
> FED CUP: Australia v Netherlands full tie details
“I think we’re in a great position tomorrow to win the tie. We’re still in with more than a chance and I feel like we’ve got the team to be able to get the job done tomorrow,” Barty said.
“It didn’t feel like a 0 and 2 match at all. In the first set I had break points against me early and many game points against me … I think I had to weather the storm early.
“One of the keys was to start well, and put her under the pump straight away and to show her that I’ve been in this position more times than her, and to try and show that experience.”
Despite several games going the distance, Barty had too much experience and polish for the 295th-ranked Lemoine, a lefty with plenty of power but who couldn’t land her shots consistently.
Barty built a 6-0 3-0 lead thanks to a delightful off-backhand volley played at thigh-height into the open court for a winner.
Lemoine got on the board in the next game and broke Barty when the Aussie was serving for the match, but couldn’t hang on much longer.
“At the end of the day I want to play my best tennis and do the best that I can, but it is only a tennis match,” Barty said of remaining relaxed despite the pressure of delivering for her country.
“And I am able to go out there and play with freedom. Even though there were some pretty stressful situations and it’s a pretty big occasion, I feel as though when I’m relaxed and just going out to play my game, that’s when I play my best.”
Kerkhove defeats Stosur
Kerkhove, ranked No.210, recovered from 4-1 down in the first set to record a 7-5 7-6(1) win in the World Group Play-off tie.
Playing in her first Fed Cup singles rubber, Kerkhove repeatedly had success going in behind Stosur with her forehand, finishing the match with 21 winners to the Australian’s 10.
“It’s a great feeling – I never felt this way. It’s amazing,” said Kerkhove.
“I had to play aggressive. That’s my game, and that’s also I think the game to defeat Sam. She’s a great player.
“I felt really good, (even) in the beginning. I think it’s nice to play the underdog in this match. So I didn’t play with pressure – I just didn’t think, and just played.”
Stosur struggled with her rhythm and timing; despite serving strongly throughout the match, she was inconsistent off the ground, spraying 30 errors and being forced into error 22 times.
It was a nervy start for both players but Stosur settled quickest, winning four straight games to lead 4-1.
But the Dutchwoman roared back, finding the range on her forehand – which increasingly became a weapon as the match progressed.
Facing set point in the 10th game, Stosur saved it with a gutsy forehand return winner and went on to break for 5-5.
But Kerkhove played with clarity and belief, pocketing the first set and maintaining her level in the second, despite serving second and despite the fact Stosur significantly lifted her performance on serve.
She dominated the ensuing tiebreak thanks to a combination of her forceful play and Stosur’s errors.
“I think there were points in time where I was playing really well and executing what I wanted to do, and other times where it wasn’t quite working for me,” Stosur lamented.