Photo: ITFThe victorious Italian men's team
Italy and France earned their places in the Men’s World Group 2 and Women’s World Group for May’s BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Korea when coming through their final qualification play-offs on Sunday at Rixos Lares Hotel in Antalya, Turkey.
Luca Spano won a closely fought opening singles rubber in three sets for Italy in their play-off against Switzerland, but world No. 26 Fabian Mazzei proved far too strong for Daniel Pellegrina in the second singles rubber to secure a 60 60 victory and seal Italy’s qualification in tremendous style.
Although the doubles rubber was dead, it produced the most fascinating contest of the whole tie as Ivan Lion and Mazzei edged out Herbert Keller and Thomas von Daeniken 76(2) 67(4) (10-6) to round off Italy’s 3-0 win.
“I have many emotions. This is the first important match that I have won in this event. It is important for the team to get a good start. I was 5-2 down in the final set and I said to myself that this is important and the match is never finished,” said Spano afterwards, before turning his thoughts to May. “We want to go to the BNP Paribas World Team Cup in Korea. It is my dream every year to go to the World Team Cup. It is very emotional with many great players. My other dream is to qualify for London. It will be very difficult, but I will try.”
The women’s play-off between two former World Team Cup finalists, France and Austria, went to a deciding doubles rubber after French No. 1 and world No. 14 Christine Schoenn beat Austria’s Henriett Koosz 63 62.
Austria, the runners-up in 1994 in Nottingham, Great Britain, snatched the first set of the doubles before a puncture in their ranks caused a 10 minute delay early in the second set. On the restart the two teams continued to match each other game-for-game, producing great tension and energy before France cranked up the excitement even more by forcing a deciding match tie-break.
However, France dominated the tie-break, building a 7-0 lead and finally recorded a 36 64 (10-4) win to ensure a 2-1 overall victory and their qualification.
“I am so, so happy. It was the first time I won against Henriett. Last time I lost easily,” said Schoenn. “I was not sure that we would win. I have no words to explain how I feel. Thanks to everybody – the Turkish Disabled Sports Federation, BNP Paribas, and the Turkish people. I think we won because we played from the heart, with a smile.”
After the finals and prize giving, as a lasting reminder of a tremendous week of tennis at the Rixos Lares venue members from all the nations planted trees in honour of the qualification event, a gesture that summed up the spirit of the BNP Paribas World Team Cup regional qualifiers.
“It has been a fantastic week. I have been playing a short time and this is my first trip outside of Israel for tennis,” said Veronika Zvik, a member of Israel’s women’s team that finished fourth behind host nation Turkey. “I have learned a lot and made many new friends. The hospitality has been exceptional. It has been a great experience. Before my accident I was a boxing champion in Israel, so I have a sporting background. My snake tattoo symbolises medicine and the dragon on my back shows strength.’
“When Veronica came to tennis from boxing she wanted to kill the ball, but she brought incredible discipline and a work ethic,” said Israel’s coach Nimrod Bichler. “This event has been great for her and the Israel team. We were delighted to be fighting for third place.”
Ukraine’s women’s coach was also pleased with the progress of the team, who finished seventh in the women’s event. “We have had a fantastic week and learned a lot. When we go back to Ukraine we will train hard to improve. We had some great matches and were delighted to beat Denmark in the doubles rubber in our round-robin group.”
Anto Joskic, Croatia’s No. 1, was also pleased with his team’s eighth place in the men’s event. “The week has been perfect for me. The organisation was very good. The hotel is the best I have ever stayed in. The atmosphere is very nice. I have enjoyed it very much with my team here. I think, as a team, we had a very tough group. I am happy with our performance. The wind was tough, but it is the same for everyone. We have two new players so it is good experience for them.”