Former world’s No. 1 Victoria Azarenka teamed up with Olga Govortsova to beat Japan’s pair of Ayumi Morita and Shuko Aoyama 6-3, 6-4 in the doubles match, giving Belarus a 3-2 triumph in the Fed Cup Group II playoffs on Sunday at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum.
With the result, Belarus qualified for the World Group II next season while Japan got demoted to the Zone Group I.
“Obviously Victoria helped us a lot (during the two-day competition),” Belarus captain Tatiana Poutchek said. “The matches are very tight as I expected. For the decisive doubles, Victoria was the (London) Olympic champion in mixed doubles and Olga is also ranked highly in doubles and knows how to play.”
Azarenka played two singles and one doubles over two days and helped bring three wins to Belarus.
After a 1-1 tie on Saturday, Azarenka beat Japan’s top-ranked Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-3 to give Belarus a 2-1 lead in the best-of-the-five competition.
Then Japan tied it again when Ayumi Morita defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4 in the second singles to force a decisive doubles match.
In the doubles, the visitors overpowered Japan with strong serves and strokes. The Japanese pair countered with speedy volleys, but fell short by getting broken six times during the match.
“We are disappointed with the result, but we had the good experience by fighting together over two days,” Japan captain Yuka Yoshida said. “Now the players go back to their tours. I hope they all improve through the tournaments and we will make a new team next year.”
In Sunday’s opening match, Azarenka used her strong serve, which reached 170 kph in the first set, to take control of the match. She displayed well-angles shots, forcing Nara to run all over the court.
“I watched Kurumi play yesterday. She was playing a little bit in a different level today,” Azarenka said. “So I just tried to stay focused and I had to be aggressive.”
Nara rallied to make it 3-3 in the second set, but dropped the last three games in a row for the loss.
“I went aggressive today and taking a 2-1 lead in the second set against Azarenka, one of the top players in the world, gave me some confidence,” Nara said. “But at the same time, I felt the gap between the top players and myself because (Azarenka) was able to play better when the match became tight.”
Morita, who was called up for the team on Tuesday to replace injured Eri Hozumi, made her first appearance in the Fed Cup since 2013 and had to endure a 2-hour, 49-minute marathon match to win.
Just a couple of weeks after recovering from a back injury that caused her to miss most of the tournaments in the second half of last year, Morita fell to 5-2 in the first set, but fought back to 6-6 to force the tiebreaker, which she won.
Morita continued her momentum to take a 3-1 lead in the second set, but Sasnovich improved her powerful stroke and took five of the next six games to tie the match.
The final set saw a couple of momentum shifts when Morita won the first three games before dropping the next four in a row. But she regained her rhythm by breaking Sasnovich in the eighth game of the set and gave up only two points to her counterpart before wrapping up the victory.
Morita came back to the court after a 30-minute break to play the decisive doubles.
“I felt tired a little bit, but it was not the reason we lost the doubles,” Morita said. “I made easy mistakes or a double fault in crucial moments. Without those mistakes, the outcome could have been different.”
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