BERN, SWITZERLAND: Switzerland booked its place in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-offs in April after completing an impressive come-from-behind 4-1 victory over visitors Belgium in Bern on Sunday.
After Saturday’s singles were split to leave the World Group II first round tie finely balanced, the home side’s Romina Oprandi and Stefanie Voegele both recorded singles victories on the indoor clay of the Wankdorf Stadium before the Swiss took the doubles dead rubber too late on Sunday afternoon.
Although it was the hosts’ No. 2 Voegele who sealed the decisive third point when she beat Belgian youngster Alison van Uytvanck 6-2 7-6 in Sunday’s second singles, the two-day tie will be remembered for the quality of tennis produced by Swiss No.1 Oprandi who led captain Heinz Guenthardt’s side superbly on her Fed Cup debut.
The World No. 67 enjoyed a fairytale weekend, beating two higher-ranked opponents - Kirsten Flipkens and Yanina Wickmayer - and dropping just ten games in the process, and all this in her home town in front of an adoring public who cheered her every step of the way.
Oprandi, who represented Italy on tour until 2012, looked made-to-measure for Fed Cup tennis from start to finish. She outplayed world No. 34 Flipkens on Saturday and produced an even better performance to outclass world No. 22 Wickmayer 6-2 6-2 in Sunday’s opening singles.
Although admitting she felt nervous, Oprandi looked completely at ease during what was a clay court masterclass. From almost the first ball, her intelligent changes of pace and spin, her use of angles, tactically-perfect net play and perfectly-timed drop shots were too much for Wickmayer to handle. By the end of the match the Belgian No. 1 cut a disconsolate and frustrated figure.
“It’s great,” Oprandi said afterwards. “I’m very satisfied. Today was another great match. We’ve had a really good atmosphere in the team. It made it a lot of fun to play.”
As if things couldn’t get any worse for the visitors, then came the news that Flipkens had been forced out of the tie because of a right leg injury and had been replaced by 18-year-old world No. 195 van Uytvanck, who had to defy a ranking gap of 106 places if she was to beat Voegele to keep Belgian dreams alive.
After a one-sided first set, the teenager troubled Voegele for long periods in the second set, however, using her big serve and forehand to lead 3-0 at one stage, hold three set points with her opponent serving at 4-5 and jump into a 3-0 lead in the tie-break.
A touch of inexperience at key stages deep into the second set proved her downfall, though, and Voegele’s greater consistency was just enough for her to steal the tie-break 7-4 to wrap up a well-deserved Swiss victory.
“On paper they were the stronger side, but we had some compensation for that by playing at home and being able to choose the surface,” said Guenthardt. “But never mind that, I feel our players played absolutely at the maximum of their capacity and you can’t really ask for anything more. It was a perfect weekend.
“I expected that kind of level from Romina, but not that kind of result. Do I know that she can play this well? Absolutely. But does that mean she automatically beats someone like Yanina the way she did? No, not at all. I think Yanina is obviously good enough to beat Romina even when she plays like this, but Yanina needs to bring her best game and she didn’t.”
Guenthardt’s side will now wait to learn the identity of their next opponents in April when the draw for the World Group Play-Offs is made on February 13. Belgium face their own play-off in April, a tie they must win to stay in World Group II in 2014.
“It’s tough now,” Belgian captain Ann Devries admitted. “Before we had Kim [Clijsters], we had Justine [Henin] and, ok, now we have Yanina and Kirsten, and they’re a good team too, together with the younger girls, but if one of them can’t play it’s getting a lot tougher.”
To view match statistics click here: Live scores
Captain Ann Devries (BEL) - 10/02/2013
Captain Heinz Guenthardt (SUI) - 10/02/2013
Stefanie Voegele (SUI) - 10/02/2013
Romina Oprandi (SUI) - 10/02/2013