SEVILLE, SPAIN: Czech Republic booked its place in a sixth successive Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Spain in Seville.
The seven-time champions recovered from 2-1 down to clinch victory on day three of the rain-interrupted tie, sealing it in the decisive doubles rubber when Andrea Hlavackova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova defeated Carla Suarez Navarro and Silvia Soler-Espinosa 76(7) 63.
The Czechs will now host Italy in a re-match of last year’s semifinal after the defending champions dispatched of USA in Cleveland.
Speaking after the win, Czech captain Petr Pala said the victory “felt great”.
“I’m really happy for the girls, especially for the girls,” he said. “They went through a lot this week but they got the cherry on the cake.”
In the end, it could be argued, the first round clash at the Centro de Tenis Blas Infante was decided by the width of a racket frame.
As the sun set on the third day of play, which saw almost 10 sets of tennis contested, the Spanish duo of Suarez Navarro and Soler-Espinosa found themselves 6-4 to the good in the first set tie-break.
Hlavackova and Zahlavova Strycova, playing together for the first time, cut the deficit to 6-5 before a routine volley landed on Hlavackova’s racket, and she shanked it. The Czech player, who counts two Grand Slam doubles titles among her list of achievements, had no idea where the ball had landed and it wasn’t until the umpire announced the score as “6-6” that she realised it had crept in.
That little stroke of fortune was all the Czechs needed to seize control. They went on to take the tiebreak 9-7 before clinching the second set 6-3 and with it the tie.
While most expected the meeting between two of the most successful nations in Fed Cup history to be tight, no one could have predicted the energy-sapping drama that played out.
The third day began underneath a clear blue sky in Seville, as Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and Klara Zakopalova took to court at 9am GMT to conclude their second rubber, which was brought to a halt on Sunday with the Czech leading 64 2-0.
The opinion amongst many was that Zakopalova would finish what she started, but Tita – as she is known in these parts – had other ideas as she reeled off the first six games to the jubilation of the fans inside the intimate show court. Conchita Martinez had spoken the day before about the drier conditions suiting her players and that was clearly evident as Torro-Flor’s weighty groundstrokes kept Zakopalova pinned back behind the baseline.
In the end, however, it was Zakopalova’s experience that prevailed. The 31-year-old patiently waited for Torro-Flor’s hot streak to run cold and when it did she pounced, taking the third set 61.
With the tie level at 1-1, Zakopalova re-emerged after a 45-minute break to take on Suarez Navarro. It took the world No. 17 a while, or a set and a half to be exact, to find her range but when she did she proved too consistent for the wary Czech, who contested five sets on Monday.
With Suarez Navarro running out a 16 63 63 victor over Zakopalova, it was the turn of the Czech No. 1, Lucie Safarova, to keep her team in the tie.
Just three days earlier, Safarova had been left out of the singles line-up due to an illness she picked up upon arriving in Seville, but the rain delays allowed her sufficient time to recover in order to play a role for the team. And it proved to be a vital one.
The world No. 28, who was contesting her first clay-court match of the season, struggled against the vibrant Soler-Espinosa early on, dropping the opening set 64.
The Spaniard was dominating the play with her forehand throughout the opening exchanges but once Safarova found a way to get at the Spaniard’s backhand, she was gifted with errors. The Czech took the second set 61, before edging a tightly contested third set 63 to level the tie at 2-2.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Safarova said of her mood going into the fourth rubber. “After being sick and being injured with my shoulder it wasn’t the most comfortable time to be playing but I actually felt pretty good.
“I just concentrated on each point and tried to play as well as I could.”
Safarova’s crucial point in the fourth rubber set up Zahlavova Strycova and Hlavackova to seal the Czech’s first Fed Cup win on clay in almost seven years.
“I was so happy to get this chance to finally score a point,” said an elated Hlavackova after the win. “This is my first ever Fed Cup point.”
Zahlavova Strycova added: “We have known each other since we were small so it feels really nice. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.”
While the Czech’s focus now turns to the semifinal and Italy, the Spanish will turn their attentions to the World Group play-off draw, which takes place on Tuesday.
Martinez said after the loss that there were numerous positives her young side could take from the tie. “We are going to learn a lot of things but right now it’s difficult,” she said. “Right now we need time to, you know, think. It was tough. We were pretty much in every match, but things went for the Czech team.
“I think we have a great team, all of them fought unbelievable so I cannot ask for any more.”
Captain Conchita Martinez (ESP) - 10/02/2014
Andrea Hlavackova/Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) - 10/02/2014