Kazakhstan break new ground with Germany upset

15/04/2022 17:00

Elena Rybakina starred with two singles wins as Kazakhstan defeated Germany 3-0 in Nur-Sultan to reach the Billie Jean King Cup Finals for the first time

By Matt Roberts
Kazakhstan break new ground with Germany upset

Kazakhstan have broken new ground by beating Germany 3-0 in Nur-Sultan to reach the Billie Jean King Cup Finals for the first time. 

Having lost in the World Group II Play-offs on three occasions in the competition’s previous format, Kazakhstan have been on the cusp of beating the best nations in the world for several years, so this victory over Germany undoubtedly marks a significant moment for the country. 

It was particularly fitting that Elena Rybakina was the player to clinch the decisive point, battling past Angelique Kerber 4-6 6-3 7-5 on the clay. Rybakina, a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros last season, is the first Kazakh player in history to reach the Top 15, and her presence in this side since last year’s Qualifier victory over Argentina has undoubtedly taken Kazakhstan to the next level. 

Rybakina’s win over Kerber was in stark contrast to her 6-0 6-1 triumph over Laura Siegemund on the opening day. While that one was emphatic, this one was a pulsating encounter which went down to the wire. With it being a must-win match for Germany, Kerber looked determined from the start, and she capitalised on some early nerves from Rybakina to take the opening set. 

After holding from 15-40 down in her first service game of the second set, Rybakina loosened up and her greater risk-taking was enough to see her level the match. 

The players exchanged breaks twice at the start of the decider and then it looked as though Kerber had struck the crucial blow when she broke to move 5-3 ahead. But there would be one more twist. 

With her back against the wall, Rybakina produced a burst of her best tennis. Cheered on by the loud Kazakh support, she suddenly couldn’t miss. As Kerber got tight, she could only stand and watch as Rybakina fired winners past her, reeling off four straight games to secure victory in just over two hours. 

"The match was very difficult," Rybakina said afterwards. “But I was tuned in. I understood that, of course, we would both fight to the last point. I think I have a level and I could have played better. I think this is not my limit. Maybe Angelique can say the same thing. I didn't serve very well today, if compared with yesterday. But in general, I am glad that I managed to overcome it.” 

Even in defeat, Kerber competed hard as you would expect, and she was proud of her own performance. 

“It was a really tough one,” she said. “I was trying to push myself, the team was pushing me. It’s always an honour and I’m really proud to play for my country. I gave everything and left my heart on the court. In the end it was only two or three points which decided the match. It’s of course not the way we would like to end the tie but that’s the way it it and we will come back stronger.” 

While Germany will have to settle for the Play-offs, Kazakhstan move on to November’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals where they will be a dangerous side. As always, Rybakina was ably supported this weekend by Yulia Putintseva who also scored an excellent victory over Kerber on the opening day. 

That one was an historic 15th Billie Jean King Cup victory for Putintseva, who made her debut for Kazakhstan back in 2014, as she overtook current captain Yaroslava Shvedova and team-mate Zarina Diyas to claim sole ownership of the Kazakh singles record.