NZ come close to winning epic doubles match against China

Thursday, 11 April 2024

New Zealand came within a whisker of pulling off a big upset in the Billie Jean King Cup tie against hosts China on Thursday, with Erin Routliffe and Lulu Sun losing 6-4 4-6 14-12 to Wang Xinyu and Hanyu Guo.

A victory could have given New Zealand a crucial advantage in this Asia/Oceania Group I tournament if final placings are determined by count back of matches won, but even though Routliffe and Sun lost this nail-biter, they looked like a team that could go well together in the future.

This result followed a 6-0 6-1 loss by Valentina Ivanov to Zhu Lin in the opening match of the day and then Sun’s 6-4 6-0 defeat to Wang Xiyu.

China are the No 1 seeds for this tournament, with players ranked considerably higher than the other five nations in Changsha and they were expected to finish top of the group and go unbeaten, so there is still everything to play for for New Zealand.

It was another grey, overcast day when the first match began in front of a big crowd at Moon Island Clay Park and although Ivanov lost, she continued to keep battling, even when down 4-0 in the second set and managed to pick up a game against her far more experienced opponent, who is ranked 56 in the world.

For the first set in the next match, Sun competed well against Xiyu, who is ranked 115 places higher than her.

Sun fought back from being down 4-2 to level the opening set. Wang held serve in the next game, but unfortunately from a New Zealand point of view, after a long fight, Sun was broken in the following game.

Wang, the world No 54, raised her levels in the second set, which made it tougher for Sun, but at this stage in the Kiwis’ young career, it would have been a valuable experience for her to play someone at Wang’s level.

Then it was the turn of the doubles and for the first time this week, New Zealand captain Matt Hair put Routliffe and Sun together.

There was just one break of serve in the first set, while Routliffe’s serve was broken at 3-3 in the second. But this was followed by a superb game from the Kiwis to get the break back.

After that, there was a solid hold from Sun, ripping a fantastic winner down the line on game point and that was followed by another break of serve from the Kiwis, to take the set.

In the first change of ends in the super tiebreak China were up 4-2 and the next time they swapped sides the lead was 7-5. 

On the following point, Routliffe served a double fault, but she and Sun were able to win the next two and a volley at the net from Routliffe took it to 8-8.

A backhand down the line from Sun gave New Zealand a match point, but this wasn’t able to be converted. 

There were further match points for both teams, but none were taken, so the players changed sides again with the score at 12-12.

But at 13-12, Xinyu went on to have a match point on her serve and after a long rally Routliffe went just a bit too long with a smash.

There was a nice touch at the end of the match with local organisers presenting Routliffe a birthday cake on the court to celebrate turning 29, which amused her and the rest of the New Zealand team.

On Friday New Zealand will play Chinese Taipei and then round off this tournament with a clash against India on Saturday.

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