CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) – Barbara Schwartz beat Meghann Shaughnessy 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 9-7 in a three -hour tussle to clinch Austria a surprise victory over the United States in the first round of the Fed Cup on Sunday.
“I still can’t believe this. It’s unbelievable for us to win here,” said Schwartz after her team’s 3-2 triumph. “When we came here it was little Austria against the big United States with such great players, and we won.”
The U.S. gained some consolation by winning the final two matches of the rubber, Monica Seles defeating Evelyn Fauth 6-3, 6-3 before combining with Lisa Raymond to overcome Fauth and Marion Maruska 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) in the doubles.
After recovering from match point in the second set tiebreak and overcoming a partisan crowd, Schwartz won a baseline battle with Shaughnessy by keeping her composure on the key points.
She clinched the match with a backhand crosscourt winner and ran to hug her team mates in celebration. “In the beginning I was a bit nervous because I was thinking, ‘We’re up 2-0, we have a chance, C’mon,”‘ Schwartz said.
“But from that point on, I forgot everything, the crowd, except the points.”
The United States began the day 2-0 down after forfeiting one match when captain Billie Jean King dismissed Jennifer Capriati from the team on Friday and 23-year-old Schwartz’s 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 victory over Seles on Saturday.
Capriati had violated team practice rules by attempting to hold a private session with her father and coach, Stefano.
Both King and Shaughnessy said it was worth suffering defeat for standing up for team principles.
“I do,” Shaughnessy said. “The bottom line is when we came here, there were a set of rules signed for each player. It was Jennifer’s decision not to follow one of them. That’s her decision and it’s fine.
“But if she’s going to make that decision she needs to know there are consequences.”
King agreed that principle was more important than victory. “Yes. That’s why I did it,” she said.
The United States were confident of winning all three matches on Sunday, but left-hander Schwartz was mentally tough, consistently winning the big points and digging herself out of a variety of holes with some well-struck groundstrokes.
Shaughnessy, 23, dominated the first set with her forehand and then broke Schwartz to go 4-3 up in the second.
But the American started to get tentative in the next game and Schwartz broke back with a backhand winner down the line.
Shaughnessy held two more break points at 5-5 but the tall Austrian ripped a forehand down the line and then Shaughnessy pushed a forehand long.
Schwartz hurt a muscle in her thigh in that game and took a medical timeout to get it taped, but she kept battling.
“I couldn’t run like I did before but I kept fighting and kept my mind on the game,” she said.
Trailing 5-6 in the tiebreak, Schwartz watched the shaky Shaughnessy dump an easy forehand into the net and then won the set by gunning a forehand down the middle.
Shaughnessy was frustrated she could not finish off her opponent. “I had opportunities throughout the whole match,” she said. “I felt like I played too tentative today. I didn’t go for my shots when I needed to and that was the difference.”
Both women served well in the third set, with Schwartz mixing up wicked slice with heavy top-spin and Shaughnessy cracking flat serves down the middle.
The 75th-ranked Schwartz broke the 12th-ranked Shaughnessy to go 8-7 ahead in the third when she won a 22-stroke rally.
Serving for the match, she fought off a break point when an exhausted Shaughnessy missed a backhand. The Austrian then cracked a service winner before winning the contest with a running crosscourt backhand.
Shaughnessy, who was making her Fed Cup debut, said: “It’s the first time I’ve felt the pressure of playing for a team and my country.
“It was definitely an added pressure…it’s very disappointing. I fought hard but I wasn’t feeling the ball well today. I have to give her some credit too.”
Considered a sure-fire top 10 prospect in 1999 when she upset Dominique van Roost and Venus Williams to reach the quarter-finals of the French Open, Schwartz has spent much off the past two years nursing a damaged left elbow.
Possessing an excellent first serve, powerful groundstrokes and a good touch around the net, Schwartz believes she can be a top 10 player.
“Yes,” she said. “I was a bit unlucky with my injuries but if I’m fit, I believe in my chances. I played really great this weekend.”
Austria now meet Croatia in the next round.