Fed Cup: Ukraine Narrowly Misses Playoffs

Issue 76, February 2015.

Fed Cup: Ukraine Narrowly Misses Playoffs

Ukrainian women’s tennis has a long and rich history, and yet its Fed Cup team – which sees its top female players take on top women’s players from other nations – has yet to find sustained success. Despite Ukrainian players regularly featuring in the world’s top 100 players, including the likes of the Bondarenko sisters (Alona, Kateryna, and Valeria), Tatiana Perebiynis, Viktoriya Kutuzova, Elena Tatarkova, Yuliana Fedak – and more recently, Elina Svitolina and Lesia Tsurenko – Ukraine’s Fed Cup team has only once qualified for the prestigious World Group stage in the yearly Fed Cup tournament, and that was back in 2010. The team nearly equalled that success two years ago, dropping a 3-2 match at Kyiv’s Sport Meridian Club against a strong Canadian team backed by world #7 Eugenie Bouchard. The team nearly made it back to the group last year, after winning three qualifying matches against Israel, Austria, and Slovenia, before running into a hot Romanian side featuring the third best player in the world, Simona Halep. Featuring an experienced squad, and the top ranked player in the tournament in Elina Svitolina (#26), the Ukrainian team went into the qualifying tournament in Budapest with high hopes.

Off To a Good Start

The 26th-ranked Ukrainians were happy to be drawn into a pool with #20-ranked Great Britain, Turkey (#38), and Liechtenstein (#47), and were looking forward to the final round robin match-up against the ladies from Britain. The tournament started with the ladies facing off against Turkey and world #90 Lesia Tsurenko got the ball rolling with a 6-2, 6-2 win. In the surprise of the first day, Svitolina would fall to Cagla Buyukakcay (#123), before Tsurenko partnered with Olga Savchuk for 7-5, 6-1 victory and the 2-1 series win. Day two saw Ukraine play lowly Liechtenstein and again Ukraine started strong with Kateryna Kozlova powering to a quick 6-1, 6-1 triumph. Svitolina once again struggled to find her championship form, as she dropped a set to the 172nd-ranked Stephanie Vogt, before dispatching her in a 3-set 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 battle. The Ukrainian doubles team took the late match to see Ukraine to a 3-0 lead. The ladies ended the day in first place though, after Turkey stunned Great Britain on the back of the inspired play of Buyukakcay. Heading into the final matchup of the round robin, Ukraine only need to win one rubber to advance to the playoff.

The Wheels Come Off

The matchup against Great Britain looked favourable for the Ukrainian girls, as both Tsurenko and Svitolina lined up against opponents ranked lower than them. The team got off to a rough start though as the 90th-ranked Tsurenko fell to 148th-ranked Johanna Konta in the morning’s first match. The next was the marquis match of the tournament, featuring the two highest ranked players in Budapest – Ukraine’s Svitolina and Great Britain’s Heather Watson (#38). The match lived up to its billing, as two of the best players in the game slugged away with powerful baseline strokes and artistic dropshots. It looked good for Ukraine after Svitolina took the first set 6-2, however Watson was able to battle back in the match and edge the Ukrainian superstar 7-5, 6-4 in the following two. Ukraine’s doubles specialists Kozlova and Savchuk faced a tall task in taking on the top doubles team in Britain in the deciding rubber, but seemed game for the task – especially after taking the first set in a tiebreak 7-6 (8). In fact, everyone looked smooth in the second set as the team came within a match point before the wheels fell off. Deflated at missing the opportunity to advance, the team lost the next two sets 7-5, 6-4 to miss out on the playoff. The disappointed ladies made a nice display on the final day, defeating Bulgaria in the 9th-place playoff, with wins by Kozlova and Svitolina. Ukraine will return to the European Division I group next season, where they will try to top this season’s result.