'Not a huge party, but a happy one': Title-chasing Czech Republic reach Finals

15/04/2022 17:00

Czech Republic will take their place in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Finals after overcoming Great Britain

By Ross McLean
'Not a huge party, but a happy one': Title-chasing Czech Republic reach Finals

Nerves may have jangled at times, but Czech Republic will take their place in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Finals after finding the necessary resolve to overcome a stubborn Great Britain in Prague.

Marketa Vondrousova and Karolina Muchova dispatched Harriet Dart and Katie Swan 6-1 7-5 to deliver the decisive point in the doubles following a day of fluctuating fortunes – and emotions – for the 11-time tournament winners.

The tie was sent to a fifth and final match by the plucky Dart, who levelled the encounter with victory over Czech rookie Linda Fruhvirtova in the final singles showdown after Vondrousova had earlier outmanoeuvred British firebrand Emma Raducanu.

As part of an interview earlier in the week, Czech captain Petr Pala mentioned the legendary parties his teams have enjoyed over the years – six titles since 2011 is certainly reason for celebration. While a quieter night beckons this evening, he is nevertheless in buoyant mood.

“I am pleased and delighted,” said Pala. “It was a tough tie and when they go to the deciding doubles anything can happen. But we managed to get through and I am relieved and happy.

“In terms of celebrating, Marie is already on her way to the airport and Tereza is flying tomorrow but I think we are going to go for dinner. Everybody is very tired, but we will go for dinner. It will not be a huge party, but it is going to be a happy party.”

The Czechs looked as though they were accelerating towards the winners’ enclosure after the opening match of the day as world No. 32 Vondrousova clinically dispatched Raducanu 6-1 6-1.

Vondrousova is a streetwise performer on clay and showcased all the prowess of a player who counts a Roland Garros final on her career CV. The 22-year-old demonstrated huge variety in her game and a deftness of touch as she powered her nation into a 2-1 lead.

For Raducanu, this was something of a reality check following the highs of yesterday when her stunning victory over fellow competition debutant Tereza Martincova – in her first professional match on clay – dragged Great Britain back into contention.

That said, the 19-year-old, who failed to hold a single service game during the encounter, was visibly struggling with a blister on her foot and was far from her free-flowing self.

“I couldn’t really move or load either way and it was compromising every shot I had to play,” said Raducanu. “It is very disappointing when you’re out there playing a match for your country and feel completely redundant.

“It is frustrating to keep having physical issues but in some sort of twisted way it gives me a sense of confidence and relief that it is not my tennis that is the issue. I think my tennis level is pretty good, it is just about being able to repeat and maintain it.”

For left-hander Vondrousova, it was her second singles match-win of the tie and, combined with her later doubles triumph, meant a huge amount to the Olympic silver medallist. After all, the Czech Lawn Tennis Club, which is situated on Stvanice Island amid the Vltava River, is familiar territory.

“This is my home club and I am just so happy with the win and my own performances this week, especially with having so many people here supporting me,” said Vondrousova.  

“I started to practice here when I was seven or eight years old, so it is a really long time. From 15, I lived here for a year and had an apartment, so it is such a nice feeling to have won.”

Needing a further match-win to seal the tie and reach November's Finals, Pala sprung something of a surprise and opted for Fruhvirtova to steer the Czech ship home.

At the age of 16 years and 350 days, Prague-born Fruhvirtova is the youngest Czech player to compete in Billie Jean King Cup since Nicole Vaidisova in 2005, although – initially at least – it proved a baptism of fire.

Despite her tender years, Fruhvirtova has pedigree and only weeks ago she reached the round of 16 at the Miami Open, while her defeat of world No. 62 Ana Konjuh there was her fifth against a top 100 opponent.

That is an impressive record for a player who just three years ago was representing Czech Republic – and indeed lifting silverware – at the ITF World Junior Tennis Finals in Prostejov – the premier team competition in the 14-and-under age category.

Today was not to be her day, but she still showcased her tenacity and talent by recovering from a 29-minute 6-0 mauling in the first set to take the match to a deciding third after saving two match points.

“It was unbelievable to make my Billie Jean King Cup debut and to play in front of the Czech crowd, which is known to be one of the best crowds in the sport,” said Fruhvirtova. “It was a wonderful experience and I was so thankful to get the opportunity.”

The plaudits in this instance belonged to Dart, who showed great resolve to triumph 6-0 5-7 6-2 and respond following the disappointment of being brushed aside by Vondrousova in the tie’s opening match yesterday.

Dart’s efforts maintained her nation’s interest in the tie, although Vondrousova and Muchova ultimately proved too strong for her and Swan in the doubles. Nevertheless, Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong saw enough from her young charges to suggest there is plenty more to come.

“I see a lot of potential,” she said. “There has been a really good team spirit among all the players this week and I am excited with what I have got to work with. I hope they are all part of the team in the years to come.”