On the second day of the Final Four – aka the semi-finals – of the United Cup, it was up to the No1 players of each team fighting for a place in tomorrow’s final, to either secure the point which would give them an unassailable 3-0 lead, or alternatively, keep them in contention.
Somehow I hung in there. I was waiting for my chances. He's a big server as we all know. He hits some bombs consistently, so you have to accept a few and you have to move on from that point, concentrate on your serve Stefanos Tsitsipas
Both ties stood at 2-0 in favour of Team USA and Team Italy who were facing respectively, Team Poland and Team Greece the top two seeds with Greece who, surprisingly, had suffered losses in both their opening singles played on Saturday leaving both semis hanging very much in the balance with three rubbers to play.
In the first of the semis played at the Ken Rosewall Arena, Taylor Fritz clinched the place in the final when he defeated Hubert Hurkacz in a tight two set match which set the scene for the US to whitewash the second seeds 5-0.
In contrast, the Italians suffered their first loss when Matteo Berrettini went down to Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 7-6(2) 6-4 to secure the Greeks their first point and the chance to swing the semi-final their way, but it wasn’t to be as Lucia Bronzetti came to their rescue to clinch the vital win in style with a 78-minute 6-2 6-3 victory over Valentini Grammatikopoulou.
“It was not easy, because it was the most important point,” Bronzetti said after she had secured her team’s final place. “I felt pressure because I had to win.”
In many ways it was a bitter-sweet victory for the Italians who had lost their Brisbane City Final tie against Poland, but earned a spot in the Sydney Final Four as the best-placed runner-up and they certainly took full advantage of their second chance and must have been overjoyed to see Poland ousted in the earlier tie!
With Greece’s No. 2 women’s singles player Despina Papamichail unable to play, the last-minute substitution of Valentini Grammatikopoulou could have been an advantage as the 199th ranked 25-year-old had beaten Bronzetti in both of their previous meetings.
But she wasn’t able to use that psychological advantage and came on court no doubt affected by the pressure of keeping Greece in the tie so couldn’t respond to her opponents more aggressive game and racked up 15 errors and produced only three winners.
Grammatikopoulou settled to make the second a closer affair, striking several forehand winners only for Bronzetti to responded by raising her own level, breaking her in the third game with an off forehand winner followed by a dead net cord. A series of terrific passing shots helped her maintain her lead through to the finish, and an errant Grammatikopoulou drive volley sealed the Italian’s first match point.
“I knew that it would have been a tough match,” Bronzetti said. “I’m proud of myself, because I think that I had a good attitude in the court, and I also played good.”
Earlier Tsitsipas had given his country a chance when he produced a heroic effort against Berrettini to keep the tie alive when he rallied past the Italian after two hours and 35-minutes.
“What a great atmosphere out here, I’m loving it,” Tsitsipas said on keeping his team’s hopes alive. “We won this together guys.”
For the first half of the rubber, Berrettini was in control. Full of confidence after victories against Thiago Monteiro and Top 10 stars Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz earlier in the mixed-teams competition, the Italian used his booming serve and thunderous forehand to keep the Greek on the back foot.
The crowd started to get involved in the second set showing their support for Tsitsipas with cries of “Hellas! Hellas! Hellas!”.
“It was personally a great match, a great atmosphere,” Berrettini said. “We knew that in Australia there is a big Greek community, so we felt it yesterday obviously when the No. 1 (women) player was playing. It was even bigger. It was really nice.”
Suddenly, despite being down a set, the momentum swung Tsitsipas’ way. Berrettini lost his focus during the tie break and though he earned a break chance at 3-2 in the decider, he missed with a forehand up the line allowing Tsitsipas to surge forward to claim his country’s first win of the tie which turned out to be their only success.
“Somehow I hung in there. I was waiting for my chances. He’s a big server as we all know. He hits some bombs consistently, so you have to accept a few and you have to move on from that point, concentrate on your serve,” Tsitsipas said. “I played a very good game in that game that I broke. I was able to play with a lot of intensity and I think my concentration peaked at that particular game.”
Italy also claimed the last rubber, the Mixed Doubles with Camilla Rosatello and Anfre Vavassori taking out Grammatikopoulou and Tsitsipas 6-3 4-6 10-5.
Earlier in the day Taylor Fritz took one-hour and 44-minutes to seal the USA’s place in the inaugural final by defeating Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in two very tight sets.
Considering what was at stake, it wasn’t surprising to see the two top-tenners battling it out with some heavy serving but eventually, Fritz raised his arms in victory when he posted his 7-6(5) 7-6(5) score and was enveloped by his delighted team mates.
In what was a very composed performance by Fritz, he proved just too good for the Pole ranked at 10, just one place behind him.
“It was great to get the win today and get us through, but I had no doubt that if I were to lose the rest of the team would have come through,” Fritz said.
“I think the difference in the tiebreakers was I just served well and I put some returns in the court, played some really solid points and didn’t give him anything.
“I’m super excited going into the finals and I think we have been the favourites all week,” he concluded.
Fritz earned the first break points of the match at 4-4 after stepping up pressure on the booming Hurkacz serve but the lanky Pole saved them both.
Hurkacz turned the tables to earn two set points at 5-4 but he too was denied and it went to a tiebreak, where the American dug deep when the Pole netted a backhand.
They went toe-to-toe in the second set, with Hurkacz slamming his racket to the ground at one point as his frustrations grew.
It again went to the tiebreak, where two unforced errors from the Pole gave Fritz match point. He made no mistake, with Hurkacz again throwing his racket, this time more in irritation!
Fritz was followed by Madison Keys, who earned a 6-4 6-2 triumph against Magda Linette. Fritz and Pegula then completed a 5-0 sweep with a 6-7(5) 6-4 10-6 Mixed Doubles win against Lukasz Kubot and Alicja Rosolska.
It’s now anyone’s guess as to which team is going to be the first get their name engraved on the United Cup trophy.