Billie Jean King Cup: India trail Latvia 0-2 after Day 1 as Ankita Raina pushes Jelena Ostapenko
Latvia took a 2-0 lead over India in the Billie Jean King Cup playoff tie with wins for Jelena Ostapenko, Anastasija Sevastova over Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi respectively.
Jelena Ostapenko took a seat on her side of the court after the customary bump of the racket at the net. She threw her bottle on the ground in frustration. She was visibly upset as the Latvian team’s non-playing captain – Adrians Zguns – spoke a few words to her. She shrugged and got back to stuffing her bag with the rackets. If someone had just tuned in, they would have believed the 23-year-old had lost. Instead, she had triumphed in a humdinger in the Billie Jean King Cup.
Ostapenko probably wasn’t expecting to be on the court for nearly two and a half hours. But that is exactly what Ankita Raina did in the first rubber of the playoff tie in Jurmala. The Indian came within a game of causing an upset but instead lost 2-6, 7-5, 6-7.
Karman Kaur Thandi stepped up to the court next and matched Anastasija Sevastova stride for stride in the opening set. In the end, though, she fizzled out to lose 4-6, 0-6 in an hour and 18 minutes. That made it 2-0 to Latvia after the first day’s play and the singles matchups will be reversed tomorrow followed by the doubles (if needed).
India were expected to have a tough time against Latvia in their maiden BJK Cup playoff. Not only are Latvia ranked higher, but they also have a Grand Slam champion (Ostapenko) and semi-finalist (Sevastova) in the team to play the important singles rubbers. If that wasn’t uneven already, Latvia came in as the hosts and had the luxury of choosing the surface. And after the first day’s play, the gap between the players showed when it mattered on the slow indoor hardcourts.
With the match level at one set all between Raina and Ostapenko, after a flurry of fantastic and well contested points in the third set, the Latvian brought out the big guns at 5-5. She smacked a forehand cross court to bring up break point and converted it with a down the line winner on the same wing.
Serving for the match, Ostapenko quickly brought about the match points with a well-placed backhand deep on the baseline. Raina saved one match point but couldn’t repeat it as Ostapenko smacked a backhand down the line winner.
“I was completely zoned in and was not thinking about anything and focusing on point by point. However, Jelena plays such matches at the highest level and she played some really good shots to get few crucial points,” said Raina on the last three games of the match.
“I just knew that I am the better player. My results prove it. I knew she can’t play a high level throughout the match. I had this confidence that I am better than her and that confidence helped me to play well on the crucial points. So even after playing really bad from my side, I managed to win it,” said Ostapenko on the crucial juncture of the match.
The second and third sets were in sharp contrast to the first where Raina struggled with her serve. She failed to win a single point on second serve through the 31 minute first set.
Raina became more aggressive and confident from the second set onwards even as Ostapenko’s errors started to mount. “As the first set went through, I figured out what I needed to change and what she was doing. It would have probably been a bit better if I had done these changes earlier but regardless, there were chances,” stated Raina later.
Ostapenko struggled with her second serve and was being pushed by Raina in the second set which resulted in a change of tactic. The Latvian resorted to moonballing to force Raina into coming up with the big shots instead of playing on the counter.
It helped as Ostapenko came from 2-5 down to make it 5-5 including a hold for the 2017 French Open champion while saving a set point.
If Ostapenko survived once, she couldn’t repeat it another time with Raina forcing flat groundstrokes on her. Ostapenko missed a forehand on set point and the contest moved into a third set.
In the decider, Ostapenko started with a break to go 2-0 up. With Ostapenko struggling with her back and needing attention, Raina made merry on a miserable service effort to restore the parity.
The eighth and ninth games proved to be a real slugfest. Ostapenko placed two beautiful backhands from the back of the court to take the game at 4-3. In the next, Raina picked up the ball centimetres from the ground for a winner that surprised everyone, including Ostapenko who didn’t run for it.
After two stiff serves, Ostapenko held comfortably to put pressure on Raina who couldn’t raise her game when it was needed.
The same applies to Karman who started brightly and matched Sevastova’s groundstrokes from the back. Thandi was broken in the very first game but drew parity in the eighth game. Unfortunately for the Indian, who is returning from injury, she was broken in the very next game to hand over the advantage.
World No 47 Sevastova converted the first set point and never looked back. Thandi and Sevastova fought closely to open the second set with 20 points across two games. The difference was Thandi was broken on the fourth break point while Sevastova held her own as three chances came and went for Karman.
A bizarre call by the chair umpire led to a 3-0 scoreline soon after from which Thandi could never recover. Sevastova closed out the match with eight consecutive games and a mountain to climb for India from here.
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