02 Oct 2016

Poland defeats USA to take Junior Fed Cup title

News Article

By Tom Moran

Photo: Srdjan StevanovicPoland win the Junior Fed Cup

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: Remember the name: Iga Swiatek. Poland’s No. 1 guided her team to a second Junior Fed Cup by BNP Paribas title on Sunday, defeating second-seeded USA 2-1 to claim a memorable victory.

"It’s like a dream or something," Swiatek said afterwards. The 15-year-old, who made the quarterfinals of the girls’ singles at Roland Garros as a qualifier earlier this year, has looked extremely comfortable on the clay in Budapest all week – she has won every rubber she's contested.

Most importantly of all, she raised her level for the crucial moments. Swiatek won a singles and doubles rubber against Russia in Saturday’s semifinal, before defeating Amanda Anisimova 64 62 and partnering Maja Chwalinska to beat Claire Liu and Caty McNally 64 60 in the final to seal the tie, and the title for fourth-seeded Poland.

"I don’t know what to say," Swiatek added. "I’m just so happy."

Judging by past Polish success in this competition, there's much to be optimistic about for the future. When Poland won this title for the first time, in 2005, it was the Radwanska sisters, Agnieszka and Urszula, who spearheaded the victory.

Since then, both have established themselves on the tour – and Agnieszka, who is, of course, a Grand Slam finalist and currently No. 4 in the world, is very much a member of the game’s elite.

"They have to work hard," was Poland captain Mikolaj Weymann’s short but accurate answer, when asked earlier in the week what his players might achieve in the future. But it certainly would seem that his team – and Swiatek in particular – is very much on the right trajectory as things stand.

Swiatek would need every ounce of her fighting spirit after Liu defeated Chwalinska 63 64 in the opening rubber. That matchup was an intriguing one: neither Liu nor Chwalinska has a particularly aggressive style, with both digging in and putting a lot of balls back in court. Ultimately, the test was which of the two would make an error first.

Unfortunately for Poland, it was Chwalinska who would make the mistake more often, particularly in the early stages where Liu took a 4-0 lead. The Pole would claw her way back into the set, but she was broken for a third time when serving to stay in the set at 5-3, a double fault handing the opener to her opponent.

Breaks seemed to be the order of the day, with six exchanged at the beginning of the second set before Liu finally managed to hold her serve in the seventh game, and Chwalinska did likewise a game later. But Liu raised her level when it mattered most, and closed out the match in the 10th game when Chwalinska netted a driven backhand volley.

"I feel really good, just pulling that through," Liu said afterwards. "It was a tight match and she’s a really good player."

The sole remaining player in the American team that lost last year’s final, Liu was particularly determined to get the job done this time. "Last year we were so close," she added, "So it’d be really nice to get this win, for sure."

But Swiatek had other ideas. She opened up a comfortable lead against Anisimova in the first set of the second rubber and although she was broken when serving for the first set at 5-3, she would take it in the very next game when Anisimova hit long.

The Polish No. 1 raced to 5-0 in the second set – but it was here that nerves showed for the first time. Anisimova managed to hold on to her own serve before a string of errors from Swiatek in the next game saw Anisimova win another one back.

That was as good as it got for the American, however – Swiatek conjured up a match point with a beautifully angled forehand in the eighth game, and took it when Anisimova fired long.

Returning to the court a little over half-an-hour later for the decisive doubles rubber, Swiatek continued the momentum, steering Poland to a 5-3 lead alongside Chwalinska. The pair passed up three opportunities to take the set on Liu’s serve, but Swiatek made no mistake a game later, serving out to 15 to put the Poles one set away from the title.

An early break in the second set would put the Poles in command – and they never looked back, rounding off a fabulous week without dropping a game in the set.

The top-seeded Russian girls, whom Poland shocked on Saturday, came through to take bronze position with a solid 3-0 win over third-seeded Japan.

"It’s amazing to be world champion," Weymann said. "It’s a very big result for the girls, for me. I’m very, very happy."

With all three Polish girls – including Stefanie Rogozinska-Dzik, who played earlier in the week – yet to reach their 16th birthdays, the team can look forward to a chance to defend the title in 2017.

"It’s going to be really tough, but yeah, we can make it for sure," Chwalinska said when asked for her thoughts about next year.

Swiatek was more reserved: "I don’t know," she said. "We will see."

Right now, Swiatek, Chwalinska and the rest of the team would rather just enjoy the moment. After their performances this week, there is no doubt that they deserve to do just that.