Photo: Susan MullaneRosie Cheng and Ella Hassall (NZL)
The New Zealand team did not have a great start to this year’s Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Finals in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Just hours after arriving, their No. 2 Annabel Ellis was taken to hospital and has had her appendix removed leaving them a girl down for the week.
The draw was not particularly kind to team New Zealand either, pitting them against Hungary, the fourth seeds and top team in the Group, on the opening day. They lost 3-0 and you could see how spirits might have dropped.
However, Wednesday is a new day and the team had a new opponent in Bolivia. Ella Hassall was the first girl up as she took on Natalia de Ugarte, who had won her singles rubber the day before. Hassall started well, breaking serve in the opening game, and went on to take the opening set 64. A solitary break in the second set was all that Hassall required to take the second set by the same scoreline and New Zealand had their first point of the week.
“I felt pretty tired after the first set and the altitude, with the breathing, was getting to me a bit. I got through it so it’s ok.” Hassall said.
That left Rosie Cheng knowing that if she could win her singles match against Bolivia’s No. 1 Daniela Ruiz then New Zealand would win the tie. If Cheng had any nerves, she showed no signs of them as she raced to a 5-0 lead in the opening set. Ruiz fought back, recovering a break but could not stop Cheng winning the set 62. Cheng was not going to ease up after that first set and, in the first game of the second set, she sent down four aces, one after the other.
That very much set the tone for the set and she eased through it, taking it 61 and giving New Zealand the victory. After her match, Cheng was very quick to praise her teammate, “Yeah we actually played really well. This little chick over here (Hassall) fought really hard and we got both the singles.”
Despite being a player down, Marcel Vos, the team’s captain, remains upbeat for the rest of the competition, “We lost one girl so we’ve come with two girls but we’re here to fight and learn and experience so I think they did a fantastic job today. Hopefully we can take out the doubles as well.”
Every rubber in the group stage of these Finals is vital and the doubles can often decide where a team places in the group. The two teams reconvened after lunch with all four singles players ready to team up for the doubles, and it was Bolivia who got off to a much stronger start as they took the first set 62.
The New Zealand team showed their fighting spirit and recovered from a break down in the second set to claim it 75 and force a deciding third set. After an early exchange of breaks in the third set, Bolivian Natalia de Ugarte double faulted to hand a break to New Zealand and they duly capitalised and took the final set 63, and the tie 3-0.
Cheng said that she was very grateful to have the experience of playing in an international tournament such as this, “We qualified two-years-ago for the 14s in Czech Republic. This is the big one,” she said. “It’s a really good experience. There’s heaps of players our age that are the world’s best and it’s cool seeing everyone play from other countries.”
As well as rubbing shoulders with the best players in the age group, Rosie Cheng had the additional honour of being chosen to read the Players’ Oath during the opening ceremony. “The day before I actually wasn’t nervous.” she recalls, “and then as soon as I got there I was so nervous, like, I was scared I was going to trip up and fall on my face or something. I’m so glad I finished it without mucking up. It was cool.”
New Zealand will face Egypt, who lost 3-0 to Hungary on Wednesday, in the final round-robin match of Group B on Thursday knowing that if they maintain their level of play from Wednesday, they have a good chance of securing second place in their group.