Storm brews in opening Aussie BJK Cup win
AUSTRALIA kick-started its Billie Jean King (BJK) Cup campaign on the perfect note with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia on the opening day of action in Glasgow. Taking place at Emirates Arena, the green and gold – minus former world number one Ash Barty who retired earlier this year – won both of its singles matches to ensure success, before Slovakia pegged back an important rubber in the doubles.
The opening tie of the tournament started with Australian Storm Sanders – ranked 237th in the world – taking on 89th ranked Slovakian, Viktoria Kuzmova. More known for her doubles play, Sanders was thrown into the second singles role in the wake of Barty’s departure, and was able to cause a vital upset over her 24-year-old adversary.
Producing an incredibly high 79 per cent serving efficiency in the first set, Sanders won a lower 58 and 50 per cent off her first and second serve points, but was also able to create critical break point opportunities. Kuzmova’s serve – which included five aces – was consistent, but Sanders was still able to break two times to one in the opening set, and claim it 6-4.
The Slovakian’s dominance off her serve stopped in the second set, as she failed to serve an ace and produced her first double fault, while her first serve percentage dropped 11 per cent. She still won 13 of a possible 17 points, but a down game saw Sanders take control and break from two opportunities. It was enough for the Australian to win the match 6-4 6-3, off the back of consistent play and just 18 unforced errors to Kuzmova’s 32.
In the second match, top ranked Australian Ajla Tomljanovic had a much easier time up against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who funnily enough had dropped to 100th in the world, below Kuzmova. The world number 33 who was coming off the back of a terrific 2022 campaign, showed no mercy as she clinically won 6-1 6-2 in 80 minutes on court.
Tomljanovic won 76 per cent of her first serve points off a 62 per cent clip, while Schmiedlova’s percentage stood at 57 off 56 per cent. Incredibly, the Slovakian hit just one winner for the entire match, while Tomljanovic fired off 13 winners. The Australian also had two less unforced errors (22-24) on her way to the convincing victory.
In order to qualify for the semi-finals stage of the event with a loss, a nation cannot afford to lose 3-0, and Slovakia was able to tick that box, with a 2-6-3 10-6 win in the doubles. Both Sanders and Kuzmova returned to the court, with the world number 10 Sanders teaming up with Ellen Perez, while Kuzmova stood beside Tereza Mihalikova.
It was an interesting decision from the Australians to choose Perez over doubles star Samantha Stosur, but being a dead rubber for the green and gold, it was more about getting court time into Perez. The Slovakian pair hit 13 winners to five and only two more unforced errors (20-18) during the match, in a nail-biting victory to keep their BJK Cup title hopes alive.
AROUND THE COURTS
The only other BJK Cup match in action on day one saw Kazakhstan knock off home nation Great Britain 2-1. Having to fight back from a deficit, Yulia Putintseva put her side in front after defeating Katie Boulter, 4-6 6-3 6-2. The match lasted two hours and 10 minutes, with Putintseva hitting 15 less unforced errors (37-52), and breaking four times to two.
In the second match, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina took care of Harriet Dart in straight sets to seal the tie for Kazakhstan. Rybakina won 6-1 6-4 in an hour and 13 minutes, doubling her opponent’s winners (16-8) and also hitting five aces to two. Rybakina then backed up in the doubles alongside world number 12 Anna Danilina, but went down to specialists Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls in straight sets, 7-5 6-3.