Ladies who Lob: The end of the summer of tennis

Usually when I drive down the Federal Highway to what the sign says is Capital Country I’m headed to some interminable work related meeting but this time my visit to Canberra was for a much more exciting reason. Australia would play Ukraine in the first round of the 2018 Federation Cup this weekend.

Now for those not in the know the Fed Cup is a women’s team global tennis event in much the same format as the Davis Cup is for the men. Two singles matches – or rubbers – then reverse singles playing your opposite opponent, and a deciding doubles match if you need it.

Being the best of three sets though and not five, means it’s condensed into just two days play. That’s a lot of tennis and in hot conditions. As the home side, we opted to play in Canberra on grass. It’s hot and blustery as you’d expect in Canberra at the back end of summer. On the upside, escaping the humidity of Sydney is a blessing.

I love our Fed Cup team. From Ash Barty and her move from tennis to WBBL and back again, Dasha Gavrilova who has only played for Australia a little while but is so passionate she takes the court with green and gold paint on her cheeks, and Casey Dellacqua a proud mum of little  Blake and Andie… well they’re all fabulous in my book.

At the end of Day One we were even. One match each. It was still all to play for and a clean slate for the next day.  Team Australia got off to a fantastic start on Day Two with Ash taking the third rubber of the tie in straight sets.  Ash played Marta Kostyuk who soundly beat Dasha the day before. Marta had made a huge impression a couple of weeks ago at the Australian Open having a sensational run at just 15yrs old. Fifteen!

Three weeks later nothing’s changed. Marta’s still 15 and she’s still playing well beyond her years. It’s only consistency that changes things, with Ash coming out fast and being more reliable overall. She looks as cool and calm as she ever has. In her on court interview after the win she tells the crowd she’s ready to play doubles with her best mate Casey Dellacqua. If we get that far… a ‘dead rubber’ might not have to go ahead at all if Dasha can win the next match.

That one started a little differently. Dasha looked unsettled and in the very first game of the match she used two challenges on some close line calls and lost them both, leaving her just one challenge for the rest of the first set. Not a great sign. They both battled on holding serve until eventually Dasha prevailed with a break  6-4. The second set saw a complete change in momentum with Ukraine racing out to take it 6-3. One set each and even then, the third didn’t go our way.

Dasha loses the fight and with Ukraine getting the match win, it comes down to the doubles rubber to determine the winner.

What we have in our favour is a top ten doubles pair in Ash and Casey. This will be Ash’s second match today. Ash and Case play together all the time and they know each other backward. On the other side of the court are twin sisters Nadiia and Lyudmyla Kichenok and they look formidable. I find myself hoping those stories about twin-sync are a myth.

Ash and Casey are primed and they break serve in the fourth game, then hold eventually taking it 6-3. They seem much less stressed about this than I am watching from the stands. Pressure? What pressure? They chat and smile in the break and look like there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.

Another spectator seems as calm as they are – Nick Kyrgios has come out to support the team and quietly signs autographs for kids between sets. He’s a Canberra native and has just announced his financial support for a renovation of the very tennis centre we’re sitting in, in memory of his late grandmother. The kids make their way to him in every break of play.

Back on court Ash and Case pull ahead and wrap up the doubles decider in straight sets. They celebrate with the team and the crowd, and Casey can’t hold back the tears any longer when when they also announce that today is her birthday. The best present ever, she says.  There are hugs all round.

Now to the playoffs in April and a possible Federation Cup. How amazing would that be! I’ll be watching. No doubt Nick K will be too.