Croatia and Serbia got their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas weeks in England off to a positive start with opening day victories at the University of Bath on Wednesday.
The Serbs were the first team to get a win on the board when they beat Georgia 2-1 in Pool B of the four-day Europe/Africa Zone Group I event. Soon afterwards Croatia came through a tight deciding doubles to edge past Turkey 2-1.
The Croats certainly didn’t have everything their own way though and had to come from 1-0 down after Turkish No. 2 Cagla Buyukakcay beat her opposite number Ana Konjuh 75 26 63 in the opening singles.
The highest-ranked player in Bath, world No. 25 Donna Vekic, levelled the tie when she edged past a stubborn Pemra Ozgen 76(0) 63 before Jana Fett and Darija Jurak were just a bit too good for Buyukakcay and Ozgen during a 64 64 doubles victory.
“It’s very intense and very difficult and we’ve been in this format for many many years and I’m just hoping we can get out of it finally,” said Croatia’s captain Iva Majoli, a former French Open champion and world No. 4.
“These other teams have nothing to lose and the girls play at a better level than they often produce at regular tournaments. We have to be 200 per cent ready for these matches.”
Konjuh, a former top-20 player, was playing only her second match since Wimbledon last year after ongoing injury problems but Majoli is hoping more court time this week will help build the 21-year-old’s self-belief.
“Ana has been struggling with injuries and until the last minute we weren't sure who’d play the second match, but I decided to put her in to bring some confidence back. Unfortunately it was a tough day for her and the girls had to finish it in the doubles. Thank God they did!”
Although Vekic admitted after her singles victory that she is a little jaded after reaching the final of the WTA Premier event in St Petersburg last week, she says the tennis she has so far produced in 2019 has been the best of her career.
“St Petersburg was really good for me, I had five good matches,” Vekic said. “For sure I’m a little bit tired but the other girl played really good today so I’m happy I got the win. I’m playing really well at the moment, I’ve worked really hard for it and I think if I keep working hard then hopefully I’ll continue to have success.”
The 22-year-old has had some of her best results on British soil in the past having won one of her two WTA titles in Nottingham in 2017 as well as reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon last summer. She also picked up a $10,000 ITF trophy in Chiswick back in 2011.
“Oh my God yes, that was maybe my first professional tournament win,” she said. “I do like playing in England, it does feel a little bit like home for me and I do like a bit of Nando’s as well!”
Serbia cruise past Georgia by winning both singles when Ivana Jorovic beat Mariam Bolkvadze 63 61 and Olga Danilovic was too good for an injured Ekaterine Gorgodze 75 63. The Georgians bounced back well to win the dead doubles rubber though when Bolkvadze and Oksana Kalashnikova teamed up to beat Danilovic and Jorovic 63 75.
The opening three days of competition are split into two sessions. Later on Wednesday hosts Great Britain face Slovenia and Hungary take on Greece in Pool A. The two group winners face off on Saturday for a spot in the World Group II play offs in April.