It was a lot harder than most people expected, but Australia came out on top over Ukraine in their Fed Cup tie in Canberra.
It came down to the fifth and final doubles rubber, with Casey Dellacqua and Ash Barty combining to win the decisive doubles rubber and clinch a victory for Australia on Sunday. The Australian duo defeated sisters Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok 6-3 6-4 in a composed performance to seal the 3-2 win.
The victory means Australia earned a place in the Fed Cup playoffs in April, where they will face a World Group first-round loser for promotion to the competition’s top tier. Australia is just one win away from the Fed Cup’s top-eight nations for the first time since 2015, while Ukraine will face a World Group II play-off.
Here are the three things to take away from the weekend in Canberra.
1. Barty leads the way as the shining light in Australian women’s tennis
Fed Cup ? Best weeks of the year ?? pic.twitter.com/DZf9r2mBPL
— Ash Barty (@ashbar96) February 11, 2018
Ash Barty came into the weekend as Australia’s number and the pressure on her shoulders to take Australia back to the world group. And it all came down to her matches, winning three from three, including the vital doubles match with Dellacqua.
The pair outplayed the Ukrainian sisters Nadiia and Lyudmyla Kichenok 6-3 6-4, to send Australia to a World Group play-off on April 21st-22nd, just in time to celebrate Dellacqua’s 33rd birthday.
Barty was the leading light for Australia over the weekend after beating both Lyudmyla Kichenok and Marta Kostyuk in her singles matches.
Barty started the tie off with a rusty performance against Kichenok before showing all her experience in a 6-2 6-3 win over Kostyuk.
If Australia is to get back into the top-eight world group and to make a run to the final in the 2019 tournament, a lot of that responsibility and pressure will land on the 2017 Newcombe Medal winner’s shoulders. She showed this weekend that she is more than capable of handling it.
2. Dasha’s weekend to forget in Canberra
World No. 26 Daria Gavrilova had a dismal weekend in the sun, losing both of her singles matches, which meant the tie came down to the doubles matches. After losing to 15-year-old Kostyuk on Saturday afternoon in a game she described as a “shocker”, she went down for the second time despite winning the opening set against the unranked Nadiia Kichenok 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“I didn’t have the best singles matches, to be honest, I had two shockers, but I’ll learn from that and I’m sure my teammates are going to support me which they always have and I’ll learn from this experience.”
3. Ukraine’s new star
Ukraine came to Canberra without their two best players in the world, with No. 3 Elina Svitolina and No. 40 Lesia Tsurenko not making the trip. So it was up to 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk, ranked 185 in the world, as the number one for Ukraine. In her Fed Cup debut, she caused a massive upset 7-6, 6-3 win over Gavrilova, who is ranked 159 places higher in the world rankings.
In the lead up to the weekend, the teenager was compared to legend Swiss Martina Hingis by her coach, and the teenager showed why, with a maturity beyond her years and some heavy groundstrokes to match.
Kostyuk had a breakthrough summer of tennis at the Australian Open last month when she became the youngest player to reach the third round in Melbourne since former world No. 1 Hingis in 1996, before losing to country women Svitolina.
With all that talent, who knows how far this young lady can go?
What was your favourite match over the weekend? Let us know your thoughts below.