Belarus strolled to a comfortable 4-1 win over Netherlands as they managed to pull off a huge upset to reach the semifinals of the World Group for the first time in history in just their first appearance in the World Group of the Fed Cup competition.
Sasnovich gets Belarus off to a perfect start
Aliaksandra Sasnovich first got Belarus off to a great start as she survived a scare against the world number 253 Michaella Krajicek. As the highest ranked player in the Belarusian team for their first ever appearance in the World Group of the Fed Cup, Sasnovich had a huge amount of pressure lying on her shoulders when she came onto the court to start the Fed Cup weekend.
She did not seem to let the pressure affect her as she ran out to a 3-1 lead within a blink of an eye, despite missing a total of four break points in her opening return game of the match. The Belarusian did not keep her lead for long, though, as Krajicek broke back immediately to prevent Sasnovich from running away with the first set. The immediate reply looked to have an incredible effect on Krajicek as she earned break points in the seventh game and threatened to take the lead. Even though she failed to convert both break points, she broke serve to love in the ninth game, earning the opportunity to serve out the set. Krajicek did just so, serving out the set to love by winning her 11th straight point in the match to be halfway from a huge upset.
The early stages of the second set saw Krajicek once again threaten to break serve as the confidence and momentum allowed her to do so. Showing some nerves of steel in front of the supportive home crowd, Sasnovich held her serve to prevent falling behind early in the second set. That service hold proved to be very encouraging as she broke serve just right in the next game to take the lead and look on course to level the match. Having the chance to level the set and return on serve at 2-2, Krajicek were outclassed on break points as Sasnovich did not look back from then on, eventually closing out the set 6-3 after breaking serve once more.
A marathon game to start the final set with saw Krajicek maintain her composure to hold her serve in the 17-point game, getting off to a great start. Sasnovich stepped up her game at the right time as she broke serve early on in the third game of the set, jumping out to the early advantage and looked to seal the win for her country. With the benefit of hindsight, that game looked to be the turning point of the match as Sasnovich gained the momentum and confidence needed and soon extended her lead to 5-1 after Krajicek gave away yet another service game. A love hold then concluded the match as Sasnovich clinched an impressive victory for Belarus after 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Bertens escapes from the brink
Coming into the second rubber with nothing to lose, Aryna Sabalenka put up a tough fight before falling to Kiki Bertens in three tough sets despite holding a match point opportunity during the match. Bertens had to help Netherlands get a win to level the match after the conclusion of the first day as the situation would be very disadvantageous to them had they lost this match, therefore the highest-ranked player in action in this tie also had a tremendous amount of pressure lying on her.
As both players were very solid on their serves and Bertens unable to find a breakthrough on the unfamiliar game of Sabalenka, a break of serve looked very distant from us. The first four return games of Bertens only saw her win a total of just three points, barely enough to even earn a break point. It was the same case for the young Belarusian too as she won just four points on the Bertens’ strong serve, with the set looking to proceed to a tiebreak. Just at the most crucial moment, Bertens’ serve betrayed her as she was broken for the first time to gift Sabalenka the opportunity to serve out the first set. The Belarusian dutifully served out the set after just 27 minutes to be halfway from a huge upset and a 2-0 lead for Belarus.
Bertens fell into deep trouble just at the start of the second set as she wasted two game points to get broken and fall behind by a set and a break. Sabalenka, with the pressure now on her, failed to keep the lead as she threw it away just in the next game where Bertens broke serve for the first time in the match. The next opportunity to break came to Bertens as she earned a break point at 3-2 but failed to convert it. Showing some nerves of steel, the 2016 Roland Garros surprise semifinalist saved two break points in the next game to prevent herself from falling behind in the scoreboard as she eventually held her serve. Bertens failed to take advantage and excel on the great opportunities to take the second set as she gave away a total of seven break points in a marathon 25-minute game which followed.
As Sabalenka broke serve for the third time in the match, she had a chance to serve out the match and seal up the win for Belarus. Closing out the match proved to be very difficult as Bertens broke back immediately to keep her in the match at 5-5. Wasting two set points at 6-5, the set was taken into a tiebreak to decide its winner. Bertens looked to level the match as she jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreak within a blink of an eye and Sabalenka was overpowered by Bertens’ strong offensive game. The young Belarusian did not give up so easily, though, as she stormed back and shocked everyone by winning six points in a row, earning her first match point opportunity of the match. The drama continued as Bertens won three straight points of her own to clinch the second set after 77 minutes of thrilling tennis.
Sabalenka had the chance to take the lead in the final set during the third game as she owned three break points but failed to convert on all of them, allowing the match to remain on serve. The Belarusian would rue the missed opportunity as she lost her service game immediately in the next game, trailing by a crucial break which would see Bertens have the advantage to close out the match. Despite missing a couple of break points in the fifth game, the Netherlands top-ranked player eventually sealed the encouraging win in 144 minutes, leveling the tie for her country.
Bertens fails to live up to her expectations
Kiki Bertens comes into the second day with even more pressure on her shoulders as she, as the top-ranked Netherlands player, would be handed a tough task as she is expected to defeat the underdog Aliaksandra Sasnovich in comfortable fashion to allow Netherlands to replicate their last year’s showing in this year’s competition. Sasnovich managed to pull off the huge upset as she counted on her supportive home crowd to put Belarus 2-1 ahead and give them the huge advantage to reach the semifinals for the first time in their history in just their debut appearance in the World Group.
The home favourite made the perfect start to the match as she broke serve twice in the early stages of the first set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye with Bertens looking out of sorts. The top-ranked player in this tie finally got herself onto the scoreboard as she got one of the breaks back to lessen the deficit. Nevertheless, just when we thought Bertens was slowly getting herself into the match, Sasnovich regained her double break lead immediately in the next game as she converted her fourth break point to have a 4-1 lead. The abundance of service breaks continued as Bertens got one of the breaks back once again to keep herself in the set and prevent Sasnovich from running away with the set. Bertens finally had her first service hold of the match as she saved two break points in a nervy game to lessen the deficit to just one game. Crumbling to the pressure, Bertens, who was seen to be crying during changeovers, was broken in the last game of the first set to allow Sasnovich to be halfway from a big upset after 42 minutes.
Similar to the second rubber yesterday, Bertens got herself into deep trouble as she fell behind by a set and a break as Sasnovich had the momentum and confidence in her which allowed her to step up her game and play like she has nothing to lose. Her celebrations were short-lived, though, as Bertens broke straight back to keep herself in the match and give herself a chance to push this into a deciding set. Within a blink of an eye, Bertens soon found herself down 5-2 in the second set as Sasnovich started to play her best tennis and not missing anything, with Bertens not able to find any answers to Sasnovich’s solid play.
There was drama at 5-3 when Sasnovich was serving for the win as she went 40-0 up before being pegged back by Bertens, where the point at 40-30 saw Bertens netting a backhand while on the defense but saw the point being called a let and replayed as the ball was found out to be broken during the point. Hitting two consecutive double faults further added into the drama as Bertens came back from the brink to break back and return on serve all of a sudden. All the effort was proved in vain as Bertens hit a double fault at 30-30 to gift Sasnovich her fourth match point, which she dutifully converted to seal a 2-1 lead for Belarus.
Sabalenka seals the win
Going into the fourth rubber, Michaella Krajicek had to win her match against Aryna Sabalenka to keep Netherlands in the tie as all expectations and hope were weighed on her shoulders. Unable to deal with the home crowd and the powerful Sabalenka game, Krajicek fell in straight sets to gift Belarus a place in the semifinals in their first-ever appearance in the World Group stages.
After an even start to the match, it was Krajicek who made the first breakthrough in the match as she broke serve at 2-2 to take the lead and looked on course to win the first set. Having a chance to break straight back, Sabalenka wasted two break point opportunities to allow Krajicek to consolidate the service break with a nervy hold of service to affirm her lead at 4-2. This was when the momentum shifted to Sabalenka as she won three games in a row to have the lead as she returned back on serve in the process.
With both players looking very solid on their serves, the set was extended into an 11th game. Krajicek showed nerves of steel when she saved two set points at 5-6 to bring the set into a tiebreak to decide its winner. Sabalenka jumped out to a 4-1 lead within a blink of an eye to be the favourite to close out the set, with Krajicek being overpowered occasionally. The lower-ranked player then made a spirited comeback as she won three points in a row to return back level and make the set even more unpredictable. Nevertheless, Sabalenka played her best tennis when it mattered as she eventually won the tiebreak 7-5 to be halfway from clinching Belarus a place in the semifinals.
Krajicek had a chance to take the lead in the early stages of the second set as she owned two break point opportunities at 1-0 but failed to capitalize on those chances as she allowed Sabalenka to get onto the scoreboard in the set. Krajicek would rue the missed opportunities as she was broken immediately in the next game to gift Sabalenka the lead and a great chance to close out the match. Sabalenka soon extended her lead as she had yet another service break to open up a 4-1 lead, looking further affirmed for the win.
Unexpectedly, Krajicek stepped up her game to get back both of the service breaks to return level at 4-4, giving herself a chance to send the match into a deciding set. Sabalenka did not seem to let the slip-up affect her as she broke serve immediately to regain the lead and have the chance to serve out the match.
The young Belarusian did just so, successfully serving out the match comfortably to help her country to clinch a place in the semifinals of the World Group. Unexpectedly, Krajicek stepped up her game to get back both of the service breaks to return level at 4-4, giving herself a chance to send the match into a deciding set. Sabalenka did not seem to let the slip-up affect her as she broke serve immediately to regain the lead and have the chance to serve out the match. The young Belarusian did just so, successfully serving out the match comfortably to help her country to clinch a place in the semifinals of the World Group.
Belarus eventually concluded the match with a win in the dead doubles rubber, with Olga Govortsova and Vera Lapko defeating Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus in straight sets to complete the huge upset of Netherlands, which came totally unexpected.
Aliaksandra Sasnovich 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 Michaella Krajicek
Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 6-7 (6), 4-6 Kiki Bertens
Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 6-4 Kiki Bertens
Aryna Sabalenka 7-6 (5), 6-4 Michaella Krajicek
Olga Govortsova/Vera Lapko 6-4, 6-2 Cindy Burger/Arantxa Rus