Australia is a win away from a place in the Billie Jean King Cup semi-finals after surprise packet Storm Sanders continued her scintillating form in Prague.
Sanders outclassed the lower-ranked Yuliya Hatouka 6-3 6-3 to give Australia a 1-0 lead over depleted Belarus in Thursday night’s (AEDT) must-win tie at the prestigious teams’ event formerly known as Fed Cup.
After missing the opening tie against Belgium with an unspecified illness, 2021 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic returns to action in the second singles rubber with a chance to seal victory for Australia.
Tomljanovic, the world No.43, plays the 88th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Although Australia is also understrength in the absence of world No.1 Ash Barty, Alicia Molik’s team has a golden opportunity to advance to the last four with Belarus without world No.2 Aryna Sabalenka and two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka.
But it must beat the Belarusians 3-0 to guarantee a semi-final spot along with the USA and Russia.
A loss would eliminate Australia, while a 2-1 win would leave the 2019 finalists facing a countback against Belgium.
Sanders has certainly done her best to push Australia through.
Enjoying her finest season yet on tour, the 27-year-old left-hander defied her ranking of No.131 to score a huge three-set upset victory over world No.18 Elise Mertens 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-0 on Tuesday to inspire Australia’s surprise win over Belgium.
And she had far too many guns for Hatouka, the world No.192 making her Cup debut, needing little more than an hour to put Australia in the box seat for a semi-final berth.