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In-form Japan secures return to Fed Cup World Group

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Ayumi Morita clinched victory for Japan with a 7-5, 6-2 triumph over Belgium’s Tamaryn Hendler in the opening reverse singles match of their Fed Cup World Group playoff on Sunday.

Morita’s win at Ariake Colosseum gave the host nation an unassailable 3-0 lead and assured a return to the eight-nation World Group in 2013. Japan last played in the World Group in 2007.

The loss by Hendler means Belgium will play in World Group II next year.

Japan No. 1 Morita began the contest with an ace and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set after breaking Hendler’s serve in the second game. Both players slammed away from the baseline, with Morita getting the better of it until midway through the set.

With a 4-1 advantage, Morita began to struggle as Hendler’s returns started to find their mark. The players exchanged breaks in the seventh and eighth games as Morita went up 5-3.

Hendler, Belgium’s No. 1, then broke again to make it 5-4 and held serve to level at 5-5 after staving off one set point.

Morita dug in and took the next game on serve at love. She then closed out the set with a beautiful backhand winner down the line to break Hendler once more.

Being able to hang on and claim the first set energized Morita, who raced to a 3-0 lead again in the second set after breaking Hendler in the second game.

Morita was brimming with confidence now as she pounded her backhand from deep behind the baseline for winners. Morita broke in the fourth and sixth games to go up 5-1.

Hendler finally broke Morita in the seventh game for 5-2, but Morita closed out the match in 1 hour, 28 minutes on serve in the next game.

Morita held a significant advantage in winners (35-14) for the match. She also dominated on points won on her second serve, registering 52 percent to Hendler’s 32 percent.

“I’m very relieved that I won,” stated Morita. “This is one of the best victories in my career.”

A key moment in the match came with Morita leading 6-5 in the first set, but trailing 30-40. She challenged a call on a shot by Hendler that could have made it 6-6, but the point was overturned and it went to deuce instead. Morita then broke to win the set.

“I was very confident that the ball was out,” said Morita of the point in question. “All of my teammates thought that it was in. They all said it was a risky challenge.”

Morita praised her young opponent after the victory.

“She is a big fighter and didn’t give up,” Morita said.

“I’ve had two good experiences in the last two days playing two singles matches for Belgium,” Hendler said after the defeat. “It is an honor to play for my country. I fought as hard as I could.”

Hendler, who lost in straight sets to Kimiko Date-Krumm on Saturday, said that Morita and Date-Krumm presented similar challenges.

“They are both very aggressive players,” Hendler noted. “This is a fast court, which I am not used to. They put so much pressure on you that it is hard to even call it an ‘unforced error.’

“It was more like a forced mistake.”

Japan No. 2 Date-Krumm had been scheduled to take on Belgium No. 2 Alyson Van Uytvanck in the second reverse singles match, but with Japan securing the tie Japan captain Takeshi Murakami chose to give Kurumi Nara a chance to take the court.

Van Uytvanck prevailed 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 in the contest.

Date-Krumm and Rika Fujiwara defeated Van Uytvanck and Ysaline Bonaventure 6-2, 6-4 in doubles in the final match of the tie.

Both Morita and Date-Krumm said they had been inspired by a motivational video that Murakami showed the Japan team prior to the tie. The video included scenes from last year’s March 11 disaster and Nadeshiko Japan’s triumph at the Women’s World Cup last summer, and focused on the spirit of sports.

Date-Krumm said it emphasized “Japanese toughness” and how Nadeshiko Japan’s win had lifted the nation and now it was time for Japanese women’s tennis to do the same.