The Belorussians came to Brisbane for a raging Easter Barty Party, although the alcohol wasn’t quite the main attraction, as a brutal Fed Cup Semi-Final between age old rivals Australia and Belarus was the headline act, with the winner guaranteed to host the final at the end of the year against either France or Romania.
Pat Rafter Arena was the setting, with the Australians trying to reach the Fed Cup Final for the first time since they lost the 1993 edition to Spain, searching for their first Fed Cup title since 1974.
Evonne Goolagong-Cawley played in that Final, and she was on deck in Brisbane… behind a sheet of glass.
Rubber 1: Aryna Sabalenka defeated Sam Stosur 7-5, 5-7, 6-3
Alicia Molik decided to go with Sam Stosur over Dasha Gavrilova and Priscilla ‘Queen of the Desert’ Hon to take on the Belorussian #1 in Sabalenka, which kind of works, considering Sam is from Queensland, and they’re playing in Brisbane.
Slammin’ Sam gave Sabalenka a better fight than I gave her credit for, trading punches in the 1st set, which featured some 5 breaks of serve in the opening 6 service games.
Stosur broke for a 5-4 lead to serve for the set, but couldn’t get it done, then had 3 break points as Sabalenka managed to hold for 6-5, and then had 4 set points on Stosur’s serve, before finally sealing the set on the 5th attempt to win it 7-5 after 63 minutes.
If the first set was brutal, the second was… also brutal.
There was a grand total of 9 BREAKS OF SERVE FOR THE SET, with only 3 holds, including the 1st and 12th games.
In the end, Stosur leveled proceedings at 7-5, after 59 agonising minutes.
Ultimately, Sabalenka used her athletic prowess to good use in the final set, breaking Stosur at 3-1, and then having no more troubles on serve to win the set 6-3, as the Belorussians drew first blood.
Rubber 2: Ash Barty defeated Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (2), 6-3
The hometown hero and Vegemite poster child Ash Barty took on her Miami doubles partner in Victoria Azarenka, who many moons ago was a 2-time Australian Open champion and World Number One, but nevertheless, is still a player grows another leg when it comes to Fed Cup ties, boasting a 16-5 win/loss record in singles rubbers and 22-6 overall.
The 1st set was marked by both players taking turns at picking off the other’s serve- What started at a mundane 1-1, ended at 3-3 with four consecutive breaks of serve.
It ultimately went to a tiebreak, and Barty closed out proceedings by winning the final 6 points, winning the breaker 7-2.
It was a touch easier in the 2nd set, as Barty broke Azarenka’s serve on consecutive occasions (In between Azarenka breaking Barty’s serve), setting up a 5-3 lead, although she didn’t even have to face the nerves of serving out the match, breaking Azarenka to finish the match at 7-6, 6-3, evening the tie at 1-all.
Rubber 3: Barty defeated Sabalenka 6-2 6-2
The biggest singles rubber of the tie, between the two ladies joined at the hip in the WTA Rankings (Barty at 9 & Sabalenka at 10), and the early proceedings featured some marathon games- the opening game with five deuces, and the fifth game (Barty’s first break of serve) featured four deuces.
Sabalenka was striking the ball as well as she had been in the deciding set against Stosur, but proved her own worst enemy on serve, chucking down four double faults despite having several chances to move 3-2 ahead, handing Barty her first break of serve on her third BP attempt.
From there, Ash never gave Sabalenka a look-in, taking another break for good measure to win the opening set 6-2.
Sabalenka had a chance to spark a comeback in the 2nd set, having a break point at Advantage & 2-1 up, but even as she put herself in a position that would win 99/100 points, Barty provided the exception.
Barty saved another break point, then broke Sabalenka’s serve in the next game, and didn’t look back, racing clear to score a 6-2 6-2 win, handing Australia a 2-1 lead, and extending her unbeaten run in Fed Cup play to 5/5 this year!
Rubber 4: Azarenka defeated Stosur 6-1 6-1
If this match were played in circa 2012, we’d be anticipating a massive battle between the World Number One Vika Azarenka, and the World Number Five, Slam Winnin’ Sam Stosur.
Unfortunately, the years since then have not been kind to either player, for various reasons- Injuries, custody battles, poor form, though one thing remains- In 10 previous meetings, Vika led 9-1, which proved quite telling on the scoreboard.
Looking like major winner Victoria Azarenka, she turned the sudden death doubles tie into a one-sided rout, dismantling Stosur 6-1 6-1 in a mere 59 minutes, by far the easiest win of the weekend, setting up a WINNER HOST FINAL SUDDEN DEATH DOUBLES RUBBER!
Rubber 5: Barty/Stosur defeated Azarenka/Sabalenka 7-5, 3-6, 6-2
A massive doubles match needs players with fantastic pedigrees in the four-player format, and that’s what we got.
Sam Stosur, a former World Number One in doubles and a multiple major champion (Including the AO title from this year), Ash Barty, the reigning US Open Doubles Champion and previous finalist at the other three majors, Victoria Azarenka, previously the finalist of the AO and French Open, plus winning an Olympic Gold Medal and Majors in Mixed…
And Aryna Sabalenka, who is also good.
The Australians had the early break in the 1st, but eventually, Sabalenka and Azarenka put enough cracks in Stosur’s serve to level the scores at 3-3, only for Azarenka to hand it right back, and then reclaim it for 4-4, and hold serve to give Belarus the lead at 5-4.
Barty held serve for 5-all, and then Sabalenka was the next player to drop serve, and at the worst possible time, giving the Aussies a 6-5 lead, which Stosur didn’t relinquish, serving it out to a tense 30 to win the set 7-5.
As the 2nd set progressed, the Aussies had break points at 3-3, 0-40, but Azarenka ripped out a few big serves combined with some 1-2 play at the net from Sabalenka to hold serve, and highlighting how much the worm can turn, the next game, Stosur decided to take the pace off her serves to get a few balls in, allowing Azarenka & Sabalenka to tee off, giving Belarus the crucial break at 5-3, and Sabalenka had no problems serving it out to set up a monster final set, befitting of the evenness of the tie.
At this point in time, Molik’s decision to leave Stosur in for the decider was somewhat questionable, given she’d lost both singles rubbers and the doubles was in a tense decider, but the decision delivered in spades, and first serves, and break points.
Stosur ended up being the best player on the court in the final set (From my own perspective), having no trouble holding serve, and getting her own back on the Belorussian pair, breaking Azarenka for the first break of the decider, and Barty cemented the break at 4-1.
Sabalenka held serve, Stosur held to love for 5-2, and then Australia hammered Azarenka’s serve again to go to 0-40 and three match points, and after the first two were saved, a volley from Stosur into Sabalenka’s body did the job, and sealed the tie.
Ash Barty is now on a 14 match win streak in Fed Cup play, and Stosur is now 8-0 in Fed Cup Doubles matches!
Now The Long Wait Begins For A Home Final In November… Might as well start painting the Rod Laver Arena courts right now!