Daria Gavrilova marked her return from a nine-month layoff to get an understrength Australian team off to a perfect start in the Billie Jean King Cup.
In a gutsy display in which she was forced to take a medical timeout, the 27-year-old rallied late to beat Greet Minnen 6-4 1-6 6-4 in Prague.
Australia’s hopes for the tournament rest on beating Belgium, which claimed a 2-1 win over Belarus earlier this week, to advance from the group.
Gavrilova hadn’t played since exiting the Australian Open in a loss to Ash Barty and her return to action loomed as a baptism of fire.
— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) November 2, 2021
With Barty, a member of the side that reached the final in 2019 unavailable and Ajla Tomljanovic forced to withdraw on game day due to illness, it was fair to say Australian hopes were low when Gavrilova took to the court.
The Russian-born player underwent achilles surgery earlier this year and the challenge against world No.70 Minnen shaped as a bridge too far.
But Gavrilova showed little signs of rust early on as she broke the Belgian in the first game before holding serve.
The pair then broke each other with Gavrilova eventually claiming the set after butchering some valuable opportunities to put Minnen away.
Despite the Australian’s early impetus, Minnen began to exert her dominance, clicking into gear and methodically wrapping up the second set in 32 minutes.
Gavrilova’s serve was noticeably weaker and she lacked the same fluidity that had given her the early lead.
After a medical timeout she returned with heavy strapping on her left thigh and the break seemed to have done her a world of good.
Her zip in service returned, but she made too many errors with a handful of double faults handing Minnen the chance to break her.
However, she held on to make it 5-4, before Minnen wilted under pressure to see Gavrilova seal victory and put Australia 1-0 up.
In the other singles game Storm Sanders will face Elise Mertens, with the former set to team up with Ellen Perez for Australia in the doubles.