Hopping onto the courts in Prague, surrounded by the enthusiastic crowd although they were supporting her opponent, Sofia Kenin seemed ready to make her debut in the prestigious team competition. The young American embraced the vibrant atmosphere and looked to give team USA a perfect start in the final, but opposite the net was veteran Barbora Strycova who is playing in her last Fed Cup tie ever. Just in front of her home crowd, the Czech was determined and motivated to clinch a vital victory for her Czech Republic in the first match of the day.
Ultimately, it was Strycova who showed some great mental toughness to survive the two-hour, 43-minute thriller in her first meeting against the American youngster. With credits to both players, we could not have asked for a better start to the final as Strycova and Kenin showcased a world-class display of counterpunching and beautiful tennis. Strycova gave the perfect start to Czech Republic’s pursuit for their fifth title in six years, with this tie being more competitive than expected.
Kenin steals the marathon first set
Making her debut in the competition, Kenin rose to the occasion and never seemed afraid of the roaring crowd. The American debutant started the final with a perfect love service hold and earned a break point in her opening return game. An unreturnable serve from Strycova saved her from the early deficit and paved the way for her to get onto the scoreboard ultimately.
Errors started to come from Kenin and she was broken first amidst her bright start. She struggled to deal with Strycova’s occasional high balls and her variety of shots, and the win seemed to be heading towards the home nation when Strycova consolidated the break and was just an inch away from earning an insurance break.
Looking to be more aggressive, Kenin charged towards the net more often and escaped from the risk of a huge deficit to keep the set competitive. A series of breaks followed, and the American managed to level the score despite Strycova seemingly having the control to the proceedings.
The first set was eventually brought into a tiebreak, where Kenin was having all the adrenaline running in her. Staying solid and reliable at the baseline, the American claimed four consecutive points from 1-2 down, and after overcoming some late nerves, Kenin took the first set 7-6 despite being down a break twice.
Strycova holds her nerves and fights back
The second set may have ended 6-1 — a relatively one-sided scoreline, but the process for Strycova to level the match was way harder than you thought. Kenin had all the momentum with her, but was wasteful on her chances as she failed to convert break points in three different return games, going 0/6 on them.
Whereas, it was the completely opposite story for Strycova who managed to pounce on her opportunities and closed out the second set 6-1 within a lengthy 41 minutes. There were several obvious changes she made to her tactics, most notably being the number of times she moves up towards the net which kept Kenin at bay and prevented the American from playing her top-notch tennis.
Strycova overcomes a late wobble to triumph
Claiming her fifth consecutive game, Strycova was having everything go her way as she looked on course for the win. Kenin’s never-say-die attitude was exhibited throughout the match through her self-talk and occasional fist pump to boost herself up, which ultimately proved useful as she stopped the rout just in time to remain in contention.
Strycova was having confidence in her game and continued to control the proceedings at the net although there were several instances whereby Kenin managed to pass the Czech. A string of breaks soon followed but Kenin could not complete the miraculous comeback — with Strycova finishing off with a typical volley winner.