'Best feeling ever': Aussies' epic response to Ash Barty absence

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·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
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Storm Sanders claimed the biggest win of her singles career to help Australia to a 36-year Billie Jean King Cup first, all without the assistance of world No.1 Ash Barty. Pictures: Getty Images
Storm Sanders claimed the biggest win of her singles career to help Australia to a 36-year Billie Jean King Cup first, all without the assistance of world No.1 Ash Barty. Pictures: Getty Images

Australia's top women's tennis players have shown they don't need world No.1 Ash Barty to mix it with the world's best at the Billie Jean King Cup.

Massive singles victories for Storm Sanders and Daria Gavrilova powered Australia to their first victory over Belgium since 1984, in what was previously known as the Fed Cup.

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Sanders claimed the biggest singles victory of her career as she upset world No.18 Elise Mertens 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-0, following up Gavrilova's triumph over world No.70 Greet Minnen.

The pair of Sanders and Ellen Perez lost the following doubles match-up to Mertens and Minnen, but the singles efforts were enough to bank Australia's first win over Belgium in 36 years.

Australia will now face Belarus for a place in the top four.

With Ash Barty, a member of the side that reached the 2019 final staying home to recover from a busy season and prepare for the Australian Open, and Ajla Tomljanovic forced to withdraw on match day due to a non-COVID-related illness, Australia were outsiders in Prague.

Victory for Sanders over Mertens was her first over a top-20 player.

"It feels absolutely amazing," she said.

"To do it in this moment, representing Australia, it's just the best feeling ever.

"I knew it was a tough ask playing Mertens but we had a good game plan, I went out and executed and even though I lost the first set I felt like I was still in control."

Gavrilova and Sanders faced the higher-ranked Belgian duo, who had already recorded successes in a 2-1 defeat of Belarus in the opening Group B tie.

But Gavrilova started the upset, marking her return from a nine-month layoff, with a gutsy display in which she had to take a medical timeout.

"I'm exhausted but I'm really excited," the 27-year-old said.

"I was a bit scrappy at times but my fighting spirit never went away so I'm really happy."

Sanders and Gavrilova power Australia to 36-year-first

Victory for Sanders over Mertens was her first over a top-20 player.

"It feels absolutely amazing," she said.

"To do it in this moment, representing Australia, it's just the best feeling ever.

"I knew it was a tough ask playing Mertens but we had a good game plan, I went out and executed and even though I lost the first set I felt like I was still in control."

Gavrilova hadn't played since exiting the Australian Open in a loss to Barty, subsequently having achilles surgery earlier this year, sending her world ranking sub-400.

But she took the first set only for Minnen, ranked No.70, to cruise through the second.

After a medical timeout Gavrilova returned with heavy strapping on her left thigh and the zip in her service returned.

Daria Gavrilova celebrates after defeating Greet Minnen at the Billie Jean King Cup. (Photo by MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images)
Daria Gavrilova celebrates after defeating Greet Minnen at the Billie Jean King Cup. (Photo by MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images)

At 5-4 she broke Minnen to take the match and put Australia 1-0 up.

Sanders' match with Mertens looked to be going as anticipated when the favourite took the first set.

But the second, after a flurry of breaks mid-set, went to a tiebreaker in which Sanders overcame a nervy double-fault at 6-4 to grab.

Sanders then played inspired tennis to run away with the third set, winning 12 of the last 13 points for an unexpected triumph.

"I don't think I have played a set that well in my life," she said.

"I don't think I made an unforced error. I was just enjoying it."

Meanwhile, Russia cruised to a 3-0 win over Canada, who had upset defending champions France in their opening tie.

With AAP

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