The Czech Republic trounced the United States to reach the semi-finals of the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow on Friday, where they will play Switzerland, winners over Canada, on Saturday afternoon.
The first set, I played really incredible. I felt like I couldn’t miss a ball. But of course she’s going to fight back. So I was prepared for a tight match. Of course I got a little bit tight in the end but, I think, it’s because I care really much, and I really want to win. I was aware of the big occasion, that this is like serving out to get into the semi-final, but I felt like all my teammates, they got me through so much. Belinda Bencic
Katerina Siniakova and Marketa Vondrousova upset Coco Gauff and Danielle Collins to put the Czechs in the Last 4 for the first time in 4 years.
Gauff, the World No 7, and 14th-ranked Collins were expected to roll over the Czechs in their singles, but neither won a set as the USA went down 0-2.
Collins played the opening rubber and was overwhelmed by Vondrousova, 6-3 6-3, who won 8 games on the trot from 1-3 down.
It was an inspired team selection from the Czech captain, Petr Pala, who overhauled his singles line-up following their 2-1 victory over Poland the night before.
Vondrousova was playing just her 3rd event back in her return from a 6-month injury layoff following wrist surgery, and she has now won her last 6 singles matches.
The former World No 14 and 2019 Roland Garros finalist won both the singles and doubles titles at the ITF Challenger in Shrewsbury last week, pushing her back into the Top 100.
Collins started the faster, fighting through 8 deuces in the 4th game to break for 3-1, but it was a short-lived advantage as Vondrousova immediately struck back to win 8 games in a row to wrap up the opening set in 42 minutes and establish a 3-0 lead in the second.
The American finally got on the board in the 4th game of the second set, but Vondrousova’s clever, attacking play proved too much for Collins to handle as she ultimately cruised to victory.
Against Collins, the Australian Open finalist, Vondrousova won 81 percent of her first-service points to top the American in just 72 minutes.
“I played great last week but, you know, this is another level, so I think I was surprised,” said Vondrousova, the Olympic silver-medallist. “I think I played really great. I think I served also really well, and I think she’s a very tough player to play.”
It fell to 18-year old Gauff to salvage the day for Team USA, who had won all 3 prior encounters with Siniakova, but the young American buckled under the pressure to lose 7-6(1) 6-1, making 39 unforced errors in her 5th straight singles defeat to just 10 winners.
Siniakova, the WTA Doubles World No 1, collected the 8th Top 10 singles win of her career by defeating Gauff in an hour and a half.
Two breaks of serve apiece in the first set lined up the tiebreak, which Siniakova dominated, and a forehand winner to the corner gave the Czech a 4-1 advantage as she drew errors from Gauff from there to collect the one-set lead.
Siniakova had only managed just 3 games in their last meeting in Adelaide this year, but she was excellent in their first meeting in country colours.
“I knew that, but I was trying not to think about it, because, you know, the last matches she had she didn’t really play her best tennis,” said Siniakova. “I was just thinking, you know, I will go there, I will fight, and in the end it was really great match from me.”
She routinely outmanoeuvred the American and displayed feather touch, clever spin and crafty angles throughout, while Gauff struggled with her mis-firing forehand as well as searching for feel.
In the second, Gauff changed her tactics, charging the net more in a bid to mix up play, but the damage was already done and, after breaking early, Siniakova cruised on to victory.
“Very pleased with the performance of Marketa and Katerina,” said Pala. “It was really outstanding to beat such good players.
“I was hoping that Marketa was going to win that first match, to put some pressure on the US team, and it helped.”
Karolina Muchova and Karolina Pliskova cheered their players on from the sidelines, urging them on against the 17-time champions.
It was a bold call from the Czech captain, not only to drop Muchova, given the ease of her win over Magdalena Frech on Thursday, but to place his faith in Siniakova over team No 1 Pliskova.
“Well, we have four good players here,” said Pala, justifying his decision. “You know, we play every day.
“So regarding the opponents, we thought that was the best way to win it, and I’m very glad that it worked out.”
The United States won the dead doubles rubber, with Madison Keys & Taylor Townsend defeating Muchova & Pliskova, 6-3 6-3, but the Czechs had already finished 2-0 to top the group, with the Americans going 1-1, and Poland winding up 0-2.
The Czech Republic are 11-time champions and have earned a spot in the semi-finals of the women’s World Cup of Tennis for the first time since 2018.
Their opponents on Saturday will be Switzerland, the 2021 finalists, who took an unassailable lead over Canada in Pool A after Viktorija Golubic rallied to beat Bianca Andreescu, 2-6 6-3 6-4, and Belinda Bencic beat Leylah Fernandez 6-0, 7-5.
Golubic stood in for Jil Teichmann, who was on court for 4 hours on Wednesday, and the switch proved inspired as the Swiss refocused in the second set, broke early and held her ground.
“She [Golubic] is an extremely good tennis player, that’s the main thought process behind it,” Heinz Guenthardt, the Swiss captain, said. “She usually does play very well in Billie Jean King Cup for Switzerland, if you look at the results she’s had. So I know she will go out there and she will perform.
“I just felt that her game matches well with Andreescu’s game, because she naturally varies her spins and the speed and things like that, which I think makes it a little more difficult for Bianca to play her game that she likes.”
In the day’s first rubber, Golubic had to come back from a set down, though, to bounce the 2019 US Open champion as Andreescu attacked her second serve at every opportunity, overwhelming the Swiss with power and charges to the net.
It took until the 7th game for Golubic to hold serve before Andreescu clinched the opening set, much to the delight of the strong contingent of Canadian fans in the stands.
Golubic began the second perfectly by breaking early, and then she consolidated her lead with a really tough hold.
Neutralising Andreescu’s weapons and protecting her own serve more effectively, Golubic gained control as the Canadian became more error-strewn.
“Today was super up-and-down,” Andreescu admitted after her match. “I fought as hard as I could.
“I felt like I could have played better in certain moments, maybe be more smart with my tactics… Obviously disappointing.”
For the second day in a row, Andreescu had found herself 2-5 down in a set and although she narrowed Golubic’s 3rd-set lead from 4-0 to 5-4, the Swiss found sturdy serving in the last game to eke out the 2-hour and 8-minute win.
“I started off a little bit nervous and a little bit passive,” Golubic said afterwards. “It wasn’t that bad, but still, it was bad enough to make an easy set for her. I knew that I had to really raise the level.
“It took a lot out of me today, and I think my team gave me so much support.
“They lifted me up so much because I didn’t start that well, and I think without them, it would be an easy two-set loss. But I was able to get the energy from the crowd as well, and it was a great match.”
Bencic wrapped up Switzerland’s group with an emphatic performance over Fernandez, who led their head-to-head record 2-1 going in, but the Swiss bagelled the 20-year old in the first set before the Canadian raised her game to offer better resistance.
The second proved as tight and exhilarating as one would expect, with Fernandez now pushing Bencic to the limit as the contest reached a crescendo in terms of quality and drama.
In the closing stages, Bencic needed two attempts to serve it out, battling through after an hour and 29 minutes.
“The first set, I played really incredible,” Bencic said. “I felt like I couldn’t miss a ball.
“But of course she’s going to fight back. So I was prepared for a tight match. Of course I got a little bit tight in the end but, I think, it’s because I care really much, and I really want to win.
“I was aware of the big occasion, that this is like serving out to get into the semi-final, but I felt like all my teammates, they got me through so much.
“So I’m satisfied with both sets. Obviously the first set I’m satisfied with my level of play, and then the second set I’m satisfied with how I managed to stay like tough when it mattered.”
Bencic converted 6 of her 10 break points to win in 89 minutes and level her head-to-head against Fernandez to 2-2.
“I feel like I’m moving really well, and I’m just trying to grind and fight for every point,” Bencic said on court after her win. “I think, then, you get into the rhythm a little bit, and of course it feels great to be pushed by my team and just to have the heart on the sleeve.”
Brilliant backhands by Bencic helped give her the first 7 games of the match and only when Fernandez’s timing clicked into gear did the contest become more competitive, with the Canadian taking the ball early to keep the second set close, but the Swiss served out the match at the second time of asking to seal the tie for the Swiss.
Fernandez called the match a ‘learning experience’.
“Yeah, it was definitely a tough first set,” Fernandez said. “Belinda came in and she played well. I unfortunately made a couple of mistakes on key moments that did not help.”
The Canadians took the doubles match, with Fernandez & Gabriela Dabrowski routing Teichmann & Simona Waltert, 6-2 6-1.
Switzerland, who top Pool A, 2-0, with Canada standing at 1-1 and Italy with 0-2, are still seeking their first Billie Jean King Cup title have finished as runners-up in 1998 in addition to their finalist run last year.
In the semi-finals on Saturday, Great Britain takes on Australia at 10am, followed by Switzerland against the Czech Republic, not before 4pm, with the final scheduled for Sunday.
The tournament, formerly known as the Fed Cup, began with 12 teams divided into 4 groups for round-robin play of series consisting of two singles matches and one doubles match. The group winners now have advanced to the semi-finals.
Billie Jean King Cup group-stage final standings
- Switzerland, 2-0
- Canada, 1-1
- Italy, 0-2
- Australia, 2-0
- Slovakia, 1-1
- Belgium, 0-2
- Great Britain, 1-1
- Spain, 1-1
- Kazakhstan, 1-1
- Czech Republic, 2-0
- United States, 1-1
- Poland, 0-2