By Dmitry Komashko
Audiences have long supported our women’s tennis, with our squad participating in the Fed Cup (an analogue of Davis Cup) since 1994. In 1999, Natalia Zvereva and Olga Barabanshchikova even joined World Group II but our success was short lived. Zvereva was first to leave, followed by Barabanshchikova some time later. Our women returned to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I for a long period but couldn’t manage a higher ranking, although Victoria Azarenko was the new trump card, overcoming all obstacles. She has taken the path to the tennis elite almost alone. Sadly, in recent years, despite being the 8th seed worldwide, she has failed to reach the Cup in optimal form. Meanwhile, without Victoria, the efforts of Olga Govortsova, Tatiana Puchek, Yekaterina Degolevich and Darya Kustova have not been sufficient to reach beyond the Europe/Africa Zone Group.
The situation looked ideal in Israel’s Eilat, with Victoria Azarenko, Olga Govortsova, Darya Kustova and Tatiana Puchek representing Belarus. They smashed Austria, Croatia and Greece (each 3:0), reaching the semi-finals of the Fed Cup’s Europe/Africa Zone Group I. There, they confidently defeated Poland 2:0, with the historic struggle begun by Olga Govortsova, who defeated Magda Linette 7:6, 7:6. Victoria Azarenko then beat the world’s tenth seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, 7:5, 7:5. Interestingly, the Polish tennis player led in the second set (4:2) but the Belarusian then equalised with a score of 5:5. She broke her opponent’s serve, then claimed victory with an ace.
Belarus last fought for a place in World Group II in 2005 (losing to Slovenia — 1:2). We hope, this time, our girls will be more successful. A draw for the play-offs (where the best teams from the Europe/Africa Zone Group will play against those with the worst results from World Group II for a place with the elite) has been to the Belarusians’ favour. Govortsova and Azarenko are to play their April match in Minsk, against the Estonians, who are viewed as less problematic than the Swiss or Slovenians, who will play against other teams.
On the other hand, despite having won two out of three recent matches, Belarus last defeated Estonia in 2006. Three years ago, Estonia (led by Kaia Kanepi) stopped Belarus reaching World Group II play-offs, although it was soon knocked out itself. This does not mean that the Estonian team is weak however. Having smashed Israel and Argentina, they approached the elite World Division, but were defeated by the Belgians, led by Kim Clijsters.
The Belarusians are aiming for success. Speaking of her match three years ago, Victoria stresses that health hampered her play, leaving her hardly able to finish the match. With this in mind, she is optimistic about the forthcoming match. She writes on her Twitter and Facebook pages: ‘I can’t express how happy we are with our win and moving on from the group. I’m proud of my team and country. Go Belarus! I enjoyed the match against Radwanska. This was a high level match, seeing much struggle. We won, which is the important thing! I’m pleased to see us in the play-offs. It’s a huge achievement for Belarus.’
Let’s hope that more prominent success lies ahead for Belarus.