RIGA, Latvia -- The 2019 Fed Cup World Group Play-offs kicked off on Friday with Germany grinding to a commanding 2-0 lead over home team Latvia after the first day of action, putting the two-time Fed Cup champions just one win away from reclaiming their spot in the World Group for 2020.
Andrea Petkovic opened the tie with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, with the former World No.9 from Germany coming back from a 3-5 deficit in the opening set to power through the match in one hour and 35 minutes.
"I didn’t play Fed Cup last year and now it’s getting near the end of my career, so every victory in general is special to me," Petkovic told the Fed Cup website.
"When I sat down at the changeover at 5-4, I asked [team captain Jens Gerlach], ‘Am I doing something wrong, should I be doing something differently?'" Petkovic added. "But he assured me, ‘No, you’re good, you’re not too passive, just keep on doing what you’re doing.' And that gave me the calm to finish off the job.”
World No.17 Julia Goerges followed up with a hard-fought win 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win over Diana Marcinkevica, to extend the Germans' advantage. Last year's Wimbledon semi-finalist needed just under two hours to quell a spirited performance by the 267th-ranked Marcinkevica.
Germany won titles at the premier women's tennis national team event in 1987 and 1992, and most recently reached the final in 2014 before falling to recent Fed Cup stalwarts Czech Republic. Latvia is attempting to get into the World Group for the first time since 1994.
Petkovic won a staggering 24 of 29 points on Ostapenko’s second serve, and while Ostapenko had 19 winners to Petkovic’s 13, the 29th-ranked Latvian was undone by a whopping 52 unforced errors, 18 more than Petkovic’s total.
Ostapenko, who peaked at World No.5 in 2018, had ample opportunity to open up a big lead over Petkovic, as the 21-year-old Latvian cracked powerful service returns to go up a break on three separate occasions during the opening frame.
Double faults hindered Ostapenko in the first two instances, but the Latvian staved off a break point to finally consolidate a break and hold for 5-3, putting her a game away from the one-set lead. However, when serving for the set at 5-4, another Ostapenko double fault handed Petkovic a break point, which the German converted after a forehand mistake by her opponent.
Back level at 5-5, Petkovic grabbed the lifeline provided, as she held for 6-5, then fired sturdy groundstrokes while Ostapenko blasted forehand errors to give Petkovic double set point. Ostapenko saved the first with a forehand winner, but a netted miscue from that side by the Latvian allowed Petkovic to eke out the opener.
In the second set, Petkovic dropped serve in the opening game with a double fault on break point, but the German slammed winners to break Ostapenko at love in the very next game. Petkovic exhibited extreme confidence with her ground game to pick off five games in a row, breaking Ostapenko at love again to lead 5-1, after a forehand return winner off a second serve.
Petkovic then twice faltered when serving for the match, losing serve at 5-1 and 5-3, as Ostapenko found the ferocity on her returns once more to pull back on serve at 5-4. But in the subsequent game, Ostapenko again could not find consistency on her delivery, and after a strong return by Petkovic to bring up match point, the Grand Slam champion double faulted to end the clash.
In the second match, powerful hitting from Goerges helped her take control of the first set after an early exchange of breaks. The 17th-ranked German clinched the pivotal break in the opening stanza with a backhand putaway to go up 4-3, then held through to ease to the one-set lead.
However, Marcinkevica, despite a career-high ranking of World No.196 and no career wins at Grand Slam events, was fearless in the second set. The Latvian No.3 jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before dropping four straight games and allowing Goerges to go up a break at 4-3. However, Marcinkevica continued to fight and was able to level the set at 4-4.
Marcinkevica, playing her 10th season of Fed Cup for her country, held at love to get the lead back at 5-4, and was rewarded for her grit as a fierce forehand at the end of a long rally gave her triple set point in the following game. On her first chance, Goerges flung a forehand into the net, and the match was suddenly dead even.
Former World No.9 Goerges, however, steeled herself and raced through the decider. The German broke in the first game with flawless forehands, and after consolidating for 2-0 after a protracted tussle, she would not be tested on serve anymore. Goerges broke Marcinkevica for a third time in the final set to close out the challenging encounter in her team’s favor.
"I think [Marcinkevica] played a very good match, really smart tennis and was very dangerous, so I’m very proud of the way I played to come through,” Goerges told the Fed Cup website, after her victory.