Greece Edge Luxembourg in Comeback Thriller
Greece’s Fed Cup team came from behind to defeat Luxembourg and gain promotion to the next level for the second consecutive year.
The first match of the day would feature the number two players from both countries, Valentini Grammatikopoulou for Greece and Eleonora Molinaro for Luxembourg. Molinaro, just 17 years old and ranked 450 in the world, took the first set 6-3. Grammatikopoulou would win the second set by the same score, but a 6-4 Molinaro win in the third set would put Luxembourg up 1-0.
The 21-year-old from Kilkis was disappointed with her performance. “My opponent played very well. It was difficult for me, I didn’t play my best tennis. I was nervous. What I did was not right. My tactics were not as good as they should have been,” said Grammatikopoulou.
This meant that Greece would have to win both of the next two matches in order to gain promotion to the Europe/Africa Zone Group I for the first time in seven years. First, Maria Sakkari would have to beat Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella in a battle between each country’s number one player. Minella, who had beaten Sakkari in three sets in the 2016 Fed Cup, is currently ranked 299 after missing most of the last year as a result of becoming a mother.
The former world number 66 would prove to be no match for Sakkari, as the Greek got her revenge from 2016, demolishing Minella 6-0 6-1 in just 50 minutes. With the two countries being level at 1-1, the winner of this promotional playoff would come down to who would win the doubles point. Grammatikopoulou and Sakkari took on Minella and Molinaro in a do-or-die match.
Sakkari thanked the crowd for their tremendous support, and urged them to do the same for the doubles match. “I was very touched from the moment I got on the court. Without all of you, this win would have came, but not as easily. I want you to stay in your seats. We need you for the doubles. We need you in our attempt to gain promotion,” said Sakkari.
Sakkari is no stranger to decisive doubles matches against Luxembourg, falling in three tight sets to them in both 2012 and 2016 (and both times with Despina Papamichail). It seemed that Luxembourg were headed towards yet another win, as they surprisingly won the first set 6-3. Luxembourg would also go up 2-0 in the second set, much to the despair of the passionate Athenian crowd. Nevertheless, Grammatikopoulou and Sakkari were able to turn the match around by reeling off six consecutive games to take the set 6-2 and send it to a third set.
In the third set, both teams held their serves until Grammatikopoulou’s serve was broken to give Luxembourg a 4-3 lead. However, the Greeks would break back in the very next game to level it at 4-4 in the decider. With the home crowd cheering them on, the Greeks won the last eight points of the match to take the doubles point by a score of 3-6 6-2 6-4. For just the second time since 2002, Greece overcame a 0-1 deficit to win 2-1, thanks to the wins by Sakkari in singles and Grammatikopoulou/Sakkari in doubles.
After the match, the Greek girls were able to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate this historic achievement. “I was very nervous, because today I lost the only match. However, I was ready to play the doubles. But in the end it’s all okay. We achieved this all together. Our team was amazing. And the other two girls (Eleni Kordolaimi and Emmanouela Antonakis) were always with us,” said Grammatikopoulou.
“When it reached the third match, I said how it was written to be this way. For us to take it with some drama on the court. There were very difficult moments in this match, where I got very nervous. But we said with the girls and with Coach Bavelas that we will not lose,” said Sakkari.
Greece will now compete in the Europe/Africa Zone Group I next February, for the first time since 2012. After beating Israel, Denmark will join Greece in securing promotion. Egypt and Norway leave Athens being relegated, and will compete in the Europe/Africa Zone Group III in 2019.