Several Top 100 players gathered at Budapest’s Syma Sports and Congress Centre for the event, including: Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina (#26); Great Britain’s Heather Watson (#38); former world #1 – Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka (#44); and of course, Hungary’s own Timea Babos (#92). Also making a special appearance at the tournament was former world #1, and new tennis Hall-of-Famer, Martina Hingis (pictured this page – far left).
The action brought together the finest women’s tennis talent from 17 European nations for four days of hard-hitting action. Hungary was drawn into Group A along with Austria and a powerful Serbian squad. By the end of the weekend, it was Serbia and Belarus that claimed the coveted World Group playoff spots after defeating Croatia and Great Britain respectively in the finals. Hungary finished in fifth place after falling to Serbia in the round robin.
The round robin: three days of world-class action
Opening day action saw the heavily favoured Serbs handle Austria, making the Hungary-Serbia match a must-win for the home side. The Hungarian ladies had to wait until day two to see their first action, but they put in a valiant effort against a strong Serbian side ranked sixth in the world. Hungary’s Dalma Galfi, at 16 years one of the youngest players in the tournament, was simply overwhelmed by Serbian Ivana Jorovic, losing 6-1, 6-0.
Timea Babos, the best women’s tennis player in Hungary, then matched up against the top Serbian player at the competition, #78-ranked Aleksandra Krunic. This entertaining match was a battle, made all the more exciting by a raucous home crowd. Babos lost the first set 8-6 in a tiebreaker before dominating the second set at 6-0.
The two traded powerful base strokes in the decider but Babos just couldn’t quite get by Krunic – one of the best performers of the weekend – and lost the third set 7-5 in a heartbreaking tiebreaker.
The young women then gave the home crowd something to cheer about, as Babos teamed with Réka-Luca Jani to upset the strong Serbia duo of Krunic and Jorovic. The Hungarian women ensured they would be playing for fifth, instead of in a relegation match, after disposing of Austria 3-0 the following day.
There was a carnival atmosphere on Saturday as the free entrance and tennis golden girl Martina Hingis attracted by far the largest crowds of the week. The day started with the Victoria Azarenka-led Belarus side thrashing Great Britain to qualify for the World Group playoffs. Hingis joined in the afternoon, playing tennis with the kids and sticking around to sign autographs.
Hungary took to the courts in the late afternoon to meet Belgium for the fifth-place playoff. Home favourite Jani, ranked just 288th in the world, had just taken control of her rubber with Belgium’s 59th-ranked Kirsten Flipkens when the latter was forced to withdraw because the team was late for their flight.
In an entertaining end, Hungary’s Fed Cup team from this year played former Hungarian Fed Cup players in a doubles match on Centre Court to the delight of the large crowd. Further away, a very loud and entertaining tie finished with the Serbians ousting rivals Croatia to qualify for the other World Group playoff berth.
In the end, Hungary finished fifth and will compete again in the Fed Cup’s Europe/Africa Division I next year. Like last year, when the team fell to a difficult Romanian squad led by #3 in the world Simona Halep, Hungary ran into another powerful opponent in Serbia. Maybe next year the draw will be more favourable for the up-and-coming Hungarian ladies team.