Photo: Dennis G. IljushenkovWorld Team Championship 2012
MOSCOW, RUSSIA: After the storm conditions that disrupted play on Friday evening, players and organisers would have been delighted when they woke up on Saturday morning to bright sunshine and barely a breath of wind. Perfect conditions in fact for semi-finals day.
Although top seeds Italy were due to play France in the first semi-final, the more anticipated tie was on court 1, where hosts Russia had high hopes of upsetting the strong Brazilian team to secure a place in the final.
The stands filled up with home support ahead of the first match and there was a distinct nervousness in the crowd, which clearly appreciated the magnitude of the occasion. Up first were the men but the Russians did nothing to ease the nervousness when they lost their serve in the first game.
They hit straight back to level at 1-1, which boosted their confidence and buoyed the crowd. Both sides kept up the pressure on their opponents’ serve with a further back-to-back break of serves to take the score to 3-3. But Brazil upped the ante and broke again, from which Russia could not recover and Brazil served out the set to win it 64.
The second set was even more fiercely contested, with half the games going to a deciding point. Russia began strongly by breaking the Brazilian serve in the second game but Brazil broke straight back and despite some outstanding rallying and defence from the Russians, the Brazilian’s ability to play the big points well secured them two breaks.
At 5-4 and serving for the match, the home supported willed the Russian pair on and despite them bringing the game to 30-30 the Brazilian skipper, Gui Prata, held his own nerve with two big serves to take the match and a 1-0 lead in the tie. Final score 64 64.
Replacing the men on court were the women’s pairs. Russian nerves all around the court were jangling, sure in the knowledge that defeat to the Brazilian ladies would mean an end to the Championship hopes.
A strong service game to start the match by the Russians was greatfully received by the crowd, but the rest of the set was one way traffic for the Brazilians who only conceded more than one point in a game on one occasion. They raced to take the first set 61.
Perhaps the Russian pair needed the first set to calm their nerves – the second set was a different story. With nothing to lose they came out fighting. They broke the Brazilians three times and were looking much more relaxed but the Brazilians dug deep and upped their own game. Unfortunately for the Russians they still could not hold their own serve with any great consistency which left the set level at 5-5.
The Russians had a superb opportunity at deciding point on the Brazilian serve in the following game but smashed into the net. Game Brazil 6-5. The Brazilian girls recognised their opportunity on the Russian serve and made sure to keep the ball in play. It worked and to the crowd’s great disappointment they needed only one match point at 30-40 to take the second set 75, the match and to guarantee their team’s place in the final. Final match score 61 75.
And so to the mixed doubles. The Russians could not hide their disappointment at losing the men’s and women’s matches and emotions remained high. Playing for pride they started strongly, immediately breaking both Brazilian’s serves, but as was the case in the first two matches they struggled to hold their own and once again it proved their downfall.
At 3-3 Brazil held serve easily and then broke to love to leave just one game for the set. Cortez held her nerve and served Brazil into a one set to love lead.
The second set was again competitive – some lengthy exchanges mixed with multiple deciding points and several breaks of serve on both sides kept the game alive. Taking a 6-5 lead, Brazil had the opportunity to serve for the match but the Russian pair stayed calm and took the set to a tie-break. But they couldn’t hold back the Brazilians for long, who raced to a 62 lead.
Using up two of their match points to the defiant Russian pair, Brazil eventually triumphed with a cool cross-court lob to secure the tie-break. Final score 63 76(4) and queue the celebrations for the South American quartet, who will have the opportunity to play for the title of World Team Champions on Sunday.