CHIASSO, SWITZERLAND: The timing was almost perfect. Sam Stosur, the top-ranked Australian player had just beaten Swiss counterpart Romina Oprandi to win her second rubber of the day, and with it the BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie for her team, when Monday’s brief window of sunshine over the southern Swiss town of Chiasso closed.
As Stosur’s team rushed jubilantly onto the clay of court number three to embrace her, the rain growing in intensity and the deflated Swiss team slipping quietly away, it was hard to know what to discern of it all.
Firstly, there were the facts.
Torrential rain on the previous Friday, which carried over into Saturday, had flooded the main court at the Tennis Club Chiasso, and despite the valiant efforts of the local ground staff, it was deemed unfit for play.
As a result two scheduled days of tennis had to be shoe-horned into a single day. Singles rubbers that were scheduled to take place consecutively on the main court of the 1,000 seat venue were played on humble side courts in sets of two, with a quick turnaround in between.
When play commenced at 10am local time, team spearheads Stosur and Oprandi had both got off to flying starts, beating their opponents, Stefanie Voegele and Jarmila Gajdosova respectively, in straight sets and in just over an hour.
Honours shared, Australian captain Alicia Molik then made the unexpected decision to promote 16-year-old Ashleigh Barty to play Swiss No. 2 Voegele in the reverse singles.
It proved to be an astute move, the teenager overcoming the more experienced and higher ranked 23-year-old in straight sets 63 64.
Back over on court three Stosur and Oprandi’s tussle was also just coming to an end. The world No. 52 Oprandi had put up a brave fight against the world No. 9, but the Australian’s power and positioning was too much for the Swiss, the game ending 75 63.
Perhaps, then, the most obvious conclusions could be drawn from the performance of the victors.
Clearly, any team that has a player of Sam Stosur’s stature and composure – US Open champion in 2011 and French Open finalist in 2010 – was going to be hard to beat.
“That’s the quality of player and person that she is, that every time she steps on the tennis court she goes out and tries to perform her best, and she did that,” opined Molik directly after the tie.
Then you had the achievement of Ashleigh Barty. Only a couple of days short of her 17th birthday and in her debut Fed Cup year, she had been trusted with a crucial match against a player ranked 139 places in the world better than her.
Coming through with flying colours, she notched up her first win in the competition and put her team on track to both take the tie and retain their place in the World Group for 2014.
Unsurprisingly, given her tender age, she believed that it was probably the best tennis she’d ever played. “It’s unbelievable to win a Fed Cup tie. It’s really something special,” she said after her victory.
Barty wasn’t the only Australian team member in a debut role this year, however. Molik is captaining the team for the first time, and despite a closely fought 4-0 loss to the Czech team in February was obviously happy with the year and also the unity within her team.
“To be honest it’s a real pleasure to be the captain, because there’s no second guessing, there’s no questioning and they’re all here to work and get a job done,” she said.
After a comprehensive defeat at home, the positives were understandably more difficult to ascertain for the Swiss team. Voegele, her confidence shaken by her loss to Stosur in the morning, had been beaten again by the youngster Barty in the afternoon, leaving her visibly upset.
Teammate Oprandi, meanwhile, demonstrated with her win over Gajdosova and a resilient performance against Stosur that she continues to be a tough opponent for any player, particularly on clay.
They may not have won promotion to the top tier, but the Swiss are still in the World Group II for 2014 and, as captain Heinz Guenthardt pointed out afterwards, they are still relatively young - at 27, Oprandi is the oldest, while Voegele, Timea Bacsinsky, and Amra Sadikovic are all 23. Regardless of the result against the Australians, he believed they were a tough team to beat, which gave them hope for the future.
As for Australia, the second most successful Fed Cup team in the history of the competition, behind the USA, retaining their place in the World Group provides them with the opportunity of adding an eighth title to their name. And 2014 undoubtedly would be an appropriate year to do so; the last time they won the competition was in 1974.