Perfect Storm for Aussies as green and gold reach final
AUSTRALIA is just one win away from lifting its first Billie Jean King Cup in almost 50 years after the green and gold defeated home nation Great Britain. In what was a perfect storm for the green gold, the Aussies navigated the weakest group with the dominance they should have, then took down an incredible Great Britain side that had rose to the semi-finals against the odds. In last night’s semi-final, the Aussies won 2-1 thanks to an inspired Storm Sanders performance.
Yet to lose this tournament in her singles, Sanders claimed her latest victim in Heather Watson, who was coming off a dominant win over Spaniard Nuria Parrizas Diaz two days earlier. Sanders won 6-4 7-6 in a two-hour and six-minute nail-biter, with the second set tiebreaker going 7-3. In the first set, the world number 237th hit won more winner (12-11) but six less unforced errors (9-15) against the world number 133, while Watson hit the only ace of the set. Though the Brit won more of her first serve points (74 to 71 per cent), Sanders had a higher clip (62 per cent) and only dropped 11 total points on serve, breaking once for the tight first set win.
Both players went at it in the second set, with Sanders hitting 15 winners to 13, and only 18 unforced errors to 25, with the set going the full distance. Both players were terrific at scraping through when challenged, as Sanders saved six break points, and Watson two, for each player to only successfully break once. The Australian’s 72 and 78 per cent success rate off her first and second serve points was an amazing achievement, and she managed to close out the match in a tiebreaker to give the green and gold an upper hand.
That proved to be vital, as the 98th ranked Harriet Dart levelled the tie with an upset victory over Ajla Tomljanovic Dart won 7-6 6-2 in an hour and 49 minutes. The first set looked fairly even, with everything decided off Tomljanovic’s racquet. In a clash of different styles, the Aussies smashed 17 winners but 28 unforced errors, while the Brit only hit five winners, but 18 unforced errors. Both players were consistent on their serve, only broken once by their opponent, but unlike the previous tiebreaker, this time it would be the home nation that got up, with Dart winning 7-3 in the tiebreaker.
Dart carried on that momentum into the second set, as she only dropped two points off her first serve – and five off her serve in total – to be calculated with her shots. She hit eight winners for seven unforced errors, as Tomljanovic went into her shell a little, producing just the seven winners for 14 unforced errors. That proved costly, as the Top 100 talent stepped up when it counted in front of the Glasgow crowd, to salute and level the overall tie.
In the deciding doubles, it could not have been much closer. Sanders returned to the court with Samantha Stosur in their familiar doubles pairing, up against Top 100 doubles pairing, Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls who had won both their doubles to-date. In a remarkable match, both the full sets went to tiebreakers, with Australia winning the first 7-1, then Great Britain got up 7-5, and it went to a super tiebreak. There, Australia broke free with a few critical points to secured a 10-6 result in the decider and send the green and gold into the final.
Australia combined for 41 winners and 33 unforced errors compared to 24 and 21 respectively. The Aussies also won 68 per cent of their first serve points off a 77 per cent clip, but did serve four double faults and were broken twice. Luckily Australia also broke twice, and thanks to Sanders’ ridiculous form, was able to reach another BJK Cup final.
Australia has not won a BJK Cup title (previous Federation Cup) since 1974, with 2019 being the closest, as the green and gold fell short against France. Without Ash Barty this year, Australia was against the odds to come close, but with a favourable draw, the green and gold have done it again and will play off for the chance to win their eighth title overnight.
Australian captain Alicia Molik said the team was confident it had what it took to go all the way in their 19th BJK Cup final, having got so close in 2019.
“We’ve got the team to get through tomorrow,” Molik said post-match. “We’re still making up for the final we lost a couple of years ago, we know what that feels like. But we’re optimistic, we’re a team, we’ve got great support, so it’s ours for the taking.”
AROUND THE COURTS
Switzerland booked its spot in the BJK Cup final with a relatively straightforward win over Czech Republic. Viktorija Golubic backed up her terrific win over US Open winner Bianca Andreescu the day before with a straights sets win over the dangerous Karolina Muchova. Golubic won 6-4 6-4 to put her side ahead, then Belinda Bencic fought back from a break down in the second set to hand Karolina Pliskova a straight sets defeat. Bencic won 6-2 7-6, but trailed 0-3 in the second set, only to come from behind and force a tiebreaker. Eventually she won that tiebreaker 8-6, meaning Switzerland had won 2-0 and there was no need to play the doubles.