Netherlands secure Qualifiers spot with comeback victory over China

16/04/2021 16:00

The home team, led by world No. 11 Kiki Bertens, came back from 2-1 down to secure a Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers spot and end a five-tie losing streak

By David Avakian
Netherlands secure Qualifiers spot with comeback victory over China

The Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Play-off between the Netherlands and China, P.R. went the distance in ’s-Hertogenbosch. The home team, led by world No. 11 Kiki Bertens, came back from 2-1 down to secure a Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers spot and end a five-tie losing streak.

Saturday started with unfortunate news for the home team. Dutch No. 1 Bertens, who showed no signs of injury during her emphatic win over Wang Xinyu on Friday, woke up with pain in her troublesome left achilles and was not able to play her singles match against Wang Xiyu.

‘It felt different compared to the rest of the week. I warmed up, hoping it would go away, but it didn’t. There was cursing and there were tears, because I felt like I was letting the team down, even though I played my part on Friday.”

The 20-year-old Wang Xiyu, victorious on Friday against Rus as well, went on to defeat Bertens’ replacement Lesley Pattinama-Kerkhove 6-3 5-7 6-4, handing the visitors an important 2-1 lead on the indoor clay court in the Maaspoort Sports & Events venue.

One break of serve in the first set proved sufficient for Wang Xiyu, who did require a medical time-out to get her left ankle taped at 4-1. With a forehand drive-volley winner on her second set point, the young lefty guided her team one step closer to the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers.

The second set initially provided more of the same, with world No. 179 Pattinama-Kerkhove trying hard to gain the upper hand, only to be stopped in her tracks by her opponent’s powerful game.

Everything changed however, when the Chinese No. 1 stood in front of the finish line at 5-3, at which point she (surprisingly) lost five games in a row and momentum shifted across the net.

“She played very well in the second set, with good rhythm. I didn’t play too well in some important moments and she took her chances,” Wang Xiyu explained afterwards, adding that she heard about Bertens’ injury woes an hour before the match.

Pattinama-Kerkhove quickly took a 3-1 lead in the deciding set before Wang Xiyu recovered strongly to level the score at 3-3 and break serve again two games later. The World No. 134 did not misuse her second shot at serving out the topsy-turvy match and sealed the set 6-4.

With two singles wins in two days, Wang Xiyu can speak of a perfect Billie Jean King Cup debut. “I was a bit nervous, but the team helped me a lot and took pressure away,” she claimed humbly.

Rus levels

To keep the home team’s hopes alive, Rus had to overcome 19-year-old Wang Xinyu. The Chinese teenager made the better start, but could not hold on to an early break advantage. Rus eventually edged in front 5-4, after her opponent took a tumble on the red dirt on game point.

A medical time-out was called to apply band-aid to Wang Xinyu’s hurting right knee before a thrilling 24-point marathon game commenced. Rus, playing aggressive tennis when possible and defending admirably when necessary, converted on her fourth set point to secure the first set 6-4.

The suspenseful contest, featuring a large number of long rallies, continued in the second set with an 18-point opening game. Meanwhile, Bertens seemingly put as much energy into proceedings cheering from the side as she would have competing out on the court.

With 13 years of Billie Jean King Cup experience, Rus stayed level-headed throughout the clash against the inexperienced Wang Xinyu, who needed another (off court) medical time-out down 4-3. The world No. 146 returned on court after some time but had to retire two points later.

The win ended a six-match singles losing streak for Rus in the Billie Jean King Cup, dating back to 2015. “I fought very hard. It was a pity she had to retire, but I played great tennis.”

Doubles decider

Both teams elected to change their line-up for the tie-deciding doubles match. Xu Yifan replaced Zheng Saisai and paired up with Zhang Shuai, while Rus took Pattinama-Kerkhove’s place alongside world No. 11 and reigning Doha and Charleston doubles champion Demi Schuurs.

The Dutch move to keep Rus on court after her crucial singles win and combine her momentum with the great qualities of doubles specialist Schuurs certainly paid off early on as the couple needed less than fifteen minutes to take a 5-0 lead in the first set and eventually clinched it 6-1.

The Chinese duo responded firmly in the second set, moving ahead 3-1. But a stunning return winner down the line from Rus brought the home team back on serve and in control of the match.

Xu Yifan did not help China’s chances by double faulting three times at 3-3, gifting another break of serve to the Netherlands. The Dutch were put under heavy pressure in the very next game, but survived several breakpoints to maintain their advantage.

At 5-4, it was up to Rus to serve for her first ever doubles match win in the Billie Jean King Cup. The 30-year-old lefty and her partner fell behind 0-30, but managed to claim four points in a row to complete the Dutch comeback on home soil.

“I was solely focused on my singles match, but we had a group discussion about doubles right after my win and the team supported the decision for me to play,” Rus admitted at the end of the day, lauding the team effort and atmosphere.

Bright future

Departing Dutch team captain Paul Haarhuis echoed these words. “I’m very proud of the players. They were fantastic all week and everyone responded very well to Kiki’s issues. She started our campaign in fine fashion and was incredible as a supporter once she couldn’t play.”

Ending the five-tie losing streak is only fitting of the home team’s ambitions. “It’s our goal to compete with the best countries,” the coach confirmed, before praising the Chinese opposition.

“I am extremely impressed with the two Billie Jean King Cup debutants. There must have been incredible pressure on them, considering how huge of a country China is. But they did so well.”

His colleague, Shuo Liu, couldn’t agree more. "Even though today was disappointing and the Netherlands deserved to win, I am super happy with what I saw from our two young players. They have an unbelievably bright future.”