Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February
Day 2. Got there more or less at the same time I did on Friday.
Keothavong d. Ewijk
Yesterday I had seen mostly the same old clay tennis that seems to be near standard issue at this level played on hardcourt, but this was much more of a fast indoor, first strike match. The first 3-4 games I saw were highly entertaining, with some good serving and big winners from both players. But the quality of the match decreased steadily as the 1st set went along.
Ewijk was up 4-1 in the 1st, but then Keothavong took the lead; served for the set twice, and twice got broken. On to a TB, with Ewijk throwing away a big lead (5-3 or maybe even 5-2), and then the set itself by DFing when SP down.
Ewijk, with a terracotta deep tan on her legs and wearing shoes that looked like they had survived many epic battles on clay challengers, seemed to have a decent serve and to be a solid hitter - more powerful than you'd expect from a Challenger level player (although a good one - I knew her ranking used to be much higher than it is now). She handled Keothavong's pace well for the most, but hit too many random errors, particularly from the BH side.
Keothavong played the biggest game by far of all the players I saw on this tie. She went for broke with her serve and flattened out her FH with good effect - remarkable from such a lightly built player; she generates pace exclusively through good timing and flat hitting. She looked rusty on ROS (particularly from the FH side), and was slow to react whenever Ewijk had a go at her serve. Some glitches in her footwork, and she seemed to "rein in" (so to speak) her BH a few times, as if she lacked confidence in it. On the 2nd game of the 2nd set, she got crossed at the chair umpire (countless howlers from the linespeople over the two days I was there) and addressed him as "buddy". So odd hearing a perfect British accent in a Tour where pidgin, mangled English is the common language.
Keothavong was threatened on serve at 2*-2, but dug herself out with some good serving, and from then on loosened up and just went for it. Ewijk never knew what hit her - Keothavong won a bunch of consecutive points with dazzling winners. The crowd was
Rus d. O'Brien
Rus came across as underpowered and passive - and this was before she began moonballing.
Rus may be tall, but she's extremely slight - as in A. Radwanska slight, if not more. She hits a reasonably deep ball without much pace (zero racquethead speed) with remarkable consistency and scrambles very well for her size, scooping the ball up when necessary and getting a lot of balls back. Her serve is unreliable, and her wristy FH is her shot of choice. It's very odd seeing a player with her build play like a flat out retriever the way she does. O'Brien bossed her around from start to finish.
Like I said above, O'Brien tries really hard to impersonate a ballbasher, but with limited success. She hits nearly every shot as hard as she can (she gets excellent racquethead speed on both sides; her compact FH is quite a slap on the ball), but she's very erratic (I lost track of how many standard rally BHs she netted), even though she doesn't seem to go for the lines/take risks with shot placement. Her serve isn't bad when it clicks, considering her size; her 2nd serve is very gutsy.
The 3rd set was a riot. Rus wasted a big lead and a bunch of MPs as she did absolutely nothing to win them. There was choking aplenty, and crazy moonballing.
Larsson d. Mayr
This was the only match held in Court 1 I watched over the two days I attended.
I watched this match right next to the (noisy) Austrian team. The crowd at Court Central was into the Netherlands/UK doubles being played at the time as if it was a Slam final, judging by the noise.
Just before the match, I saw that near the access to Court 2, a little girl approached Bulgaria's Pavlova Dimitrova and asked for an autograph. Pavlova Dimitrova signed, and as the little girl walked away the Bulgarian put on a funny smile as if thinking "Did she even know who I am?".
Mayr has an extremely ordinary, generic game, to the extent that I find it difficult to come up with a description. She's a puffballer without any weapons; her FH sorely lacks depth, and her least bad shot is probably the BH DTL.
As for Larsson, she was very composed throughout, won the points that mattered, and took advantage of Mayr throwing away a couple of games with errors; she gifted Mayr an early break in the 2nd, but didn't let that get to her. Her game is odd - she plays from WAY behind the baseline, but that didn't pose that many problems for her as Mayr doesn't open angles, and used dropshots no more than a couple of times. Both her strokes are unorthodox: she generates racquethead speed on the FH through a wild last minute wrist snap, and sets up her BH very early, arms fully outstretched during the takeback (yet it doesn't look stiff or ungainly, like say Rybarikova's - go figure). Since Mayr hits with so little pace, her movement and footwork weren't really tested, and she was allowed to go for her shots, which she hit with remarkable consistency. Her serve would qualify as decent/good at any level; she has an old skool motion, reminiscent of Soderling's, that allows for a very good extension. She hits the serve very well out wide to both sides, and can hit a genuine high bouncing kicker to the ad side.
As I was leaving and walking past the Swedish team, I noticed that ultrablonde Allgurin in her microshorts had just stood up and all the dudes were looking around embarrassed as if they were afraid of being caught staring at her.
Evtimova d. Silva
There was overbooking it seems, and when I tried to return to the main court spectators were only being allowed in in trickles. The 2nd set had just started when I managed to get in.
The only available seats were those the usherettes were kind enough to vacate, right behind the Portuguese team. From there I could see next to nothing. My impression was that Evtimova, a very slender player, plays much like Corinna Dentoni, including in her propensity to rush the net to try to finish off points - with a fairly low rate of success. Neuza Silva was playing horribly. Too many singles + doubles matches in too few days, I guess; she seemed mentally shot, and again her BH was useless - that slice doesn't even stay low.