Tennis is a cruel sport. On one side of the court, Katerina Siniakova was celebrating with her teammates after claiming the 2018 Fed Cup title for the Czech Republic. On the other side of the court, Sofia Kenin was sitting on the bench in tears while USA captain Kathy Rinaldi comforts her for the loss.
After three hours and 45-minutes of play, it was Siniakova who survived a very, very tough challenge from Kenin and sealed the impressive victory for her country, claiming their sixth Fed Cup title in the past eight years. It was a match full of momentum shifts alongside multiple ups and downs for both players, and this could just be the best possible way to end the season with.
Siniakova had to battle to take the opening set 7-5 and looked on course to grab the straightforward win as she jumped out to a commanding 3-0 lead and even earned multiple break points in the fourth game. However, Kenin somehow found a way to level the scores but found herself in some deep trouble in the deciding set as well.
Down 1-4 and facing several break points, the American’s fighting spirit was exhibited as she was just an inch away from grabbing the upset. Siniakova eventually saved two match points and prevailed after 225 minutes of play, much to the home crowd’s delight.
Siniakova overcomes a late wobble to take the first set
The opening stages truly reflected the nature of the match as both players struggled to string together a series of service holds. Siniakova took the early lead but Kenin broke straight back in a marathon game which featured 16 points. There were several exchanges of breaks while the tension in the Prague O2 Arena was building up, with the home crowd getting louder and Kenin firing herself up.
Siniakova earned the golden opportunity to serve out the opening set at 5-3 up, but Kenin roared straight back into contention, with a correct challenge going her way at deuce which prevented the Czech from having a set point. Serving to stay in the set at 5-6 down, the American started to spray out consecutive errors which proved costly as Siniakova became just one set away from helping her country to claim the Fed Cup trophy.
Kenin comes back from nowhere, sends the match into a decider
After losing the first set, many expected Kenin to go into a complete meltdown and gradually fade away. Siniakova continued to ride on her momentum and jumped towards a commanding 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye, pouncing on her opponent’s errors as she rattled off 12 of the first 15 points in the set.
Kenin faced break points in the second set as defeat loomed for her — but that was when she got fired up once more. She had nothing to lose and steered towards a confidence-boosting hold which got her on board in the set, and Siniakova started to feel the nerves. Kenin may just be a 20-year-old youngster, but her fighting spirit is akin to a soldier who has been to war.
Playing without pressure and giving it her all, Kenin managed to seal four successive games and turn the tables on the nervy Siniakova whose errors started to build up. Just when things seem to be going the American’s way, the home favourite stopped the rout and levelled the scores with the help of some powerful groundstrokes.
However, Kenin stepped up her play just when it mattered — breaking serve to love at 5-5 before successfully serving out the set despite being down 0-3, 15-40 at one point in time.
Topsy-turvy decider goes the way of Siniakova
Kenin had the perfect chance to grab the lead in the first game of the final set but failed to convert her chances as Siniakova narrowly got past the tricky start — and that would be the outline of the deciding set with the American having her chances but being extremely wasteful.
The deciding set seemed like an exact replica of the second, with Siniakova opening a huge 3-0 lead and edging closer than ever to the win but Kenin soon fighting back to make it more competitive. A high-quality, nerve-wracking 20-minute game soon arrived upon us and it was the crowd favourite who survived the incoming onslaught and held onto her lead having fended off five break opportunities.
Kenin just refuses to fall without putting up a fight; shown when she escaped another tough yet nervy situation while being down 1-4 and facing multiple break points. That game seemed to have provided her with confidence, and more importantly the belief in herself. It kickstarted the run of four consecutive games and the underdog looked set for the huge win, leading 5-4 and earning two match points on her serve.
Be it the nerves or Siniakova raising her level, but Kenin completely lost the plot and committed four consecutive forehand errors from 40-15 up to lose her serve for the second time in the decider. Her bulk of unforced errors — altogether 74 of them in the match — proved costly as they made another appearance when she was up 0-40 on Siniakova’s serve at 5-5.
Battling her own tears, Siniakova overcame the devils in her mind and prevailed in the game which virtually decided the outcome of the match. Kenin had to serve to stay in the match but Siniakova was determined to complete the job, and she did.