The 2013 season of Fed Cup kicked off at venues around the world Saturday, with the Czech Republic taking a commanding 2-0 lead over Australia but the other three first round ties all tied at 1-1.
The Czechs, who have conquered the international competition the last two years running, looked very strong in front of their home crowd at the Cez Arena in Ostrava. Petra Kvitova scored the team's first point, rallying from 4-2 down in the first set and eventually beating Jarmila Gajdosova, 76(2) 63.
"The first match of a tie is always tough to play," Kvitova said. "I don't remember much about the first set but I knew I had to win the tie-break, then I got a good start in the second set. I think winning the tie-break helped me believe in myself in the second set. I'm very happy to win this match today."
"I thought I played pretty decently the whole match - I had chances in the first and second sets, I just wasn't able to take them," Gajdosova commented. "I would replay a lot of games differently. I had break points in both sets but she came up with big serves. She played very well when she had to."
The second match was even tighter, with Lucie Safarova edging Sam Stosur, 76(6) 76(4). Stosur had her chances - she had five set points in the first set, three at 5-3 and two more in the breaker, then she served for the second set at 6-5 - but again it was the home player who squeaked it out.
"It was such a tough match and such a long match, and each point was a long rally, so I'm really happy I won," a jubilant Safarova said afterwards. "The first set took forever, but the crowd was amazing and we have such nice support at home, it's always such a great pleasure to play for the fans here."
"I had those set points in the first set and served for the second set, so there really wasn't a lot in that match, but unfortunately for me she got all those important points," Stosur said. "I think it was a combination of me probably hitting a few double faults at the wrong time and missing some shots, and maybe in that second set didn't go after it enough. But you've just got to keep looking forward."
Italy and the United States were locked at 1-1 after Sara Errani cruised past Jamie Hampton, 62 61, and Varvara Lepchenko won a dramatic three-setter against Roberta Vinci, 26 64 75, originally leading 5-1 in the third set, letting Vinci claw back to 5-5, then winning two last games to close it out.
"I've really been working on keeping my focus from the beginning to the end in matches, but I think when I was up in the third set I lost the focus a little bit," Lepchenko said. "A lot of players have trouble closing out matches, and today it happened to be me, but I learned a lot from the experience."
Russia and Japan were also even at 1-1 after Maria Kirilenko edged Kimiko Date-Krumm, 76(3) 64, and Ayumi Morita outdid Ekaterina Makarova, 62 62. Kirilenko had all kinds of trouble with Date-Krumm, having to rally from 5-3 down in the first set and nearly squandering a 5-1 lead in the second set, watching as Date-Krumm closed to 5-4 and even got herself four points to even the set at 5-5.
"Doesn't matter what the score is, you need to fight until the end," Kirilenko said. "It's nothing unusual. Other people are sometimes up 4-0 or 5-1 and lose the sets. I'm happy I finally won though."
"Maria is a great player. She always keeps fighting," Date-Krumm said. "It was a very, very close match, but at the end of the first set she started making less mistakes and her first serve was getting better. She knows how to play the key points. I'm disappointed, but we still have tomorrow."
"I felt good on the court, and even though I lost my first service game I felt calm - I knew if I did the right things it was just a matter of time before I'd do well," Hantuchova said about her match with Jovanovski. "The key today was just trying to play my game and move her around. She's one of the young, up-and-coming players, and she plays really well too, so I'm happy with the result today."
In World Group II play, Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges helped Germany to a 2-0 lead over France; Lourdes Domínguez Lino and Sílvia Soler-Espinosa took Spain to a 2-0 lead over Ukraine; Argentina took a surprise 2-0 lead against Sweden; and Belgium and Switzerland were evened up, 1-1.