Veterans Ayumi Morita and Kimiko Date-Krumm staked Japan to a 2-0 lead over Belgium on the first day of their Fed Cup World Group playoff at Ariake Colosseum on Saturday.
Japan No. 1 Morita gave her side an early lead with a patient and determined effort in beating Belgium No. 2 Alyson Van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-4.
Japan No. 2 Date-Krumm followed by scoring a clinical 6-1, 6-4 victory over Belgium No. 1 Tamaryn Hendler.
Morita was down a service break midway through both sets but came roaring back each time to take the match in 1 hour, 32 minutes.
The 18-year-old Van Uytvanck displayed a strong serve and powerful forehand and broke Morita in the fourth game of the opening set to take a 3-1 lead.
But the veteran Morita did not get rattled and broke back in the fifth game on the way to winning four straight games and seizing a 5-3 advantage.
Van Uytvanck staved off one set point in the ninth game and held serve to make it 5-4, but Morita closed out the set 6-4 on the strength of her absolutely wicked backhand in 41 minutes.
In the second set the Belgian teen broke in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead, but Morita responded again by breaking back in the seventh game.
Morita then held serve and broke Van Uytvanck in the ninth game to go up 5-4, before closing it out on serve.
“It was a tough match,” said Morita. “When you don’t know anything about your opponent it is very difficult. She presented a challenge because of her serve and powerful forehand.
“The court here is fast and I had trouble with her returns,” said Morita. “In the beginning I was defending and not attacking, because I was just seeing how she plays.”
Morita noted that her ability to respond to adversity helped her in both sets.
“When I lose my serve I have a tendency to get defensive and come back,” she stated.
Van Uytvanck illustrated that she clearly has potential for the future and was analytical after the defeat.
“In the second set I had more chances, but she took them away and that was the difference,” said Van Uytvanck.
Date-Krumm overpowered Hendler in the first set of the second match, quickly taking a 3-0 lead on the way to claiming the set in a crisp 27 minutes.
Hendler turned the tables early in the second set, breaking Date-Krumm in the second game and moving out to a 3-0 lead.
Date-Krumm then stormed back and won the next four games to go up 4-3. Date-Krumm used deep returns and moved her younger opponent around the court as she rallied.
Hendler broke back to level at 4-4, but Date-Krumm broke right back and then held serve to close out the match in 1 hour, 21 minutes.
As Date-Krumm tired late in the second set, she called upon the wisdom of her years by just keeping the ball in play and forcing Hendler to commit unforced errors and beat herself.
“She is a really experienced player,” said Hendler. “She is an aggressive baseline player and she wasn’t given me anything. I tried to re-evaluate after the first set and figure out what I could do differently.
Date-Krumm’s style of play made it a real challenge for Hendler.
“She hits a very flat ball and takes everything early. It made the timing difficult.”
Hendler said the match with Date-Krumm was especially intense.
“It was like a bullfight. She knocked me down and then I knocked her down.”
Date-Krumm says the Japan squad has a firm goal in mind.
“We want to get back into the World Group,” she said. “Just like in Kobe (where Japan beat Slovenia in the first round in February), everybody on the team has to do their part.”
Getting the jump on the opponent is crucial, according to Date-Krumm.
“I’m glad we are up 2-0,” she commented. “The momentum of the first day is very important.”
Sunday’s reverse singles will see Morita take on Hendler, followed by Date-Krumm battling Van Uytvanck.
The doubles will pit Rika Fujiwara and Kurumi Nara against Ysaline Bonaventure and An-Sophie Mestach.
Djokovic, Nadal through
Novak Djokovic dropped serve four times before beating Robin Haase 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Friday, saying he had thought about pulling out of the event following his grandfather’s death.
Playing the day after his grandfather died, the top-ranked Djokovic looked distracted at times against Haase. He missed a first chance to serve out for the match at 5-1 before breaking the unseeded Dutchman for the seventh time to seal victory.
The win kept Djokovic on course for a final against seven-time defending champion Rafael Nadal, who overcame a slight blip in the first set before beating Stanislas Wawrinka 7-5, 6-4 for his 40th straight win at Monte Carlo.