Monday, April 28, 2008

Wk.17- Cup Capitalization & Capitulation

Even before the first ball was struck, this weekend's Fed Cup semifinals looked to be uncompetitive affairs. The assumption turned out to be true... with an unexpected twist.

When the dust had settled in Moscow, Team Russia had capitalized on the United States' team of "B" (or would "C" be more accurate?) players, as had been expected. American teenager Vania King put up a bit of a fight in two singles matches, but the Hordettes still raced to a 3-0 lead in singles play to advance to a fourth FC final in the past five years. Once the win was clinched, the hounds were kindly called off by coach Shamil Tarpischev, effectively allowing the U.S.'s "fresh faces" to grab a pair of misleading wins to wrap up the scoring in Russia's 3-2 victory.

What happened in Beijing was another story, or China was slow out of the box against Spain... then proceeded to fold up like a cheap tent in front of the home crowd.

Fed Cup competition has not been kind to Team China. A year ago, the federation's misinterpretation of the FC and Olympic eligibility rules caused it to needlessly sit China's two top-ranked players, resulting in a 5-0 1st Round loss to the Italians. With the rules and regulations squared away, the Cookies managed to rebound earlier this year, advancing to these SF and being in position to play host. So, when the clay court-loving Spaniards announced that a team of "second-stringers" would head to Beijing to do battle on a hard court surface rather than the usual array of seasoned FC veterans, the Chinese looked as if they would have an easy road to a maiden Fed Cup final (even without injured top-ranked Cookie Li Na on hand).

As it turned out, Spain only needed one veteran -- 27-year old Nuria Llagostera-Vives) -- to turn the tide in the favor of Espana.

Newcomer Carla Suarez-Navarro opened the tie with a win over Peng Shuai, then Llagostera-Vives took out both Zheng and Peng in straight sets to salt away an eyebrow-raising 4-1 victory that sends Team Spain to a tenth FC final.

As things stand, Chinese tennis watchers have every reason to feel a bit shaky about the Cookies' Olympic prospects come August. Unless Li manages to pull through with a great tournament a little more than three months from now, undue pressure will be placed on the top Cookie doubles teams to prevent a medal shutout.

Considering the Chinese federation was largely funded because of 2008's Olympic stage, this could turn out to be a case of being careful what you wish for.


RUS d. USA 3-2
ESP d. CHN 4-1

Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP: There was no calling off of any hounds in the ESP/CHN battle. To add further insult to insult, after sweeping through both Peng and Zheng and singles, Llagostera-Vives got a third victory in doubles along with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, too. After winning her first WTA singles title since 2005 earlier this season in Bogota, the veteran has staked her claim for Comeback Player of the Year, not to mention added some much needed depth to the Spanish team, which could come in handy in the FC final.

Anna Chakvetadze, RUS: it'd be easy to go with Vera Zvonareva as the Russian MVP since her tie-clinching victory over Vania King provided the final point in the Hordettes' victory. But King took Zvonareva to three sets, while Chakvetadze dispatched the American in a tight straight sets in match #1, squelching any potential dreams of a Goliathian achievement being possible by the Americans.

ITA d. UKR 3-2
FRA d. JPN 4-1
ARG d. GER 3-2
CZE d. ISR 3-2

Francesca Schiavone, ITA: two years ago, Schiavone led Italy to its first Fed Cup title, and she has a history of seizing-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat when playing for her country. Well, she did it again in a wild one against Ukraine's Mariya Koryttseva (making her FC debut) in match #1 of the ITA/UKR tie. Down three match points, two in the 2nd set and another in the 3rd, the veteran Italian somehow managed to fight back to claim a victory. Koryttseva served for the match at 5-3 in the 2nd, only to see Schiavone knot the set at 5-5 and win twelve consecutive points (including a 7-0 tie-break). In the 3rd, Schiavone raced to a 4-1 lead, only to see the Ukrainian battle back and serve for the match at 5-4. Back to the wall again, Schiavone came out fighting. In the end, she won the final three games (losing just one point in the final two) to claim the point. On Sunday, she handled Alona Bondarenko in straight sets.

Amelie Mauresmo, FRA: Is the Amelie of old finally back? Even before she had her grand slam breakthrough in 2006, Mauresmo had shined in Fed Cup play. Recently, her tour results have begun to tick upward... and now she's back in top FC form, as well. Against Japan, she allowed youngster Ayumi Morita a total of just two games, and veteran Ai Sugiyama managed to claim a paltry five.

Gisela Dulko, ARG: At least for one brief shining moment, Dulko was better than Lindsay Davenport. She handled Germany's Sabine Lisicki, who upset the American in FC play earlier this season, in quick 6-2/6-2 fashion in match #1 of ARG/GER. While the Germans must have wished that the Americans had field their "B" team a round earlier, they found out what a difference a round can make. One thing that remained the same? The Germans lost BOTH ties.

Iveta Benesova, CZE: CZE/ISR was the most competitive of the WG Playoffs. Israel's Tzipora Obziler single-handedly kept her team alive with wins over Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova, but fresh-off-her-Estoril-RU Benesova grabbed a win over a star-crossed Shahar Peer to knot the tie at 2-2. In the deciding doubles match, Benesova and Kveta Peschke took out Obziler/Peer in straights to claim the victory.

SUI d. AUT 3-2
BEL d. COL 5-0
SVK d. UZB 5-0
SRB d. CRO 3-2

Stefanie Vogele, SUI: The least know player involved in singles play in the SUI/AUT tie turned out to be the most important. #200-ranked, 18-year old Swiss Miss Vogele (not countrywoman Patty Schnyder or Emmanuelle Gagliardi) was called upon to defend Switzerland's honor against Tamira Paszek in match #4 with the Austrians just one win away from clinching a victory. The 17-year got extremely close to accomplishing her goal, too, saving match points and knotting the 3rd set at 5-5. But Vogele buckled down to claim the final two games and hand things off to Gagliardi/Schnyder in the deciding doubles match. The veteran pair lost just one game, but if not for their younger teammate's well-earned moment of glory, it wouldn't have mattered.

Kirsten Flipkens, BEL: Flipkens has had her FC troubles in the past, but she notched wins over Catalina Castano and Mariana Duque Marino in the Waffles' shutout of the Colombians.

Dominika Cibulkova, SVK: With Daniela Hantuchova out, the Slovaks were led by Amelia Island RU Cibulkova, whose close straight set wins over vets Iroda Tulyaganova and Akgul Amanmuradova assured her debut performance in this new #1 role would be a successful one.

Ana Jovanovic, SRB: Yes, both Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic notched wins in Serbia's win over Croatia, which (as happened in RUS/USA) "transformed" a dominant 3-0 lead into a not-as-close-as-it-looks 3-2 win once the "B" team came in to mop things up in the later stages. But it was little noticed 23-year old Jovanovic's match #1 win over Jelena Kostanic Tosic that was the biggest of the three... largely because it was anything but a sure "W" for the Serbs before play began.


Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP: The 19-year old, a surprise semifinalist as a qualifier in Bogota a few weeks back, opened SF play (in her FC singles debut!) with the win over Peng that set the tone for the entire tie.

Vania King & Ahsha Rolle, USA: The U.S.'s "fresh faces" only garnered one singles win (Rolle over Elena Vesnina, once the Russians had clinched), but the pair did themselves proud under adverse conditions in Moscow. King, especially, sparked with a close (4-6/5-7) loss to Chakvetadze, and a three-set defeat at the hands of Zvonareva.

Petra Kvitova, CZE: The 18-year old's game has been popping all over the place in '08, and it did again in FC play when she opened up the CZE/ISR tie by bageling Peer in the 3rd set of their match.

Yanina Wickmayer, BEL: Wickmayer is quickly becoming a seasoned FC performer, though she's never played a truly BIG match. She was 2-0 against Colombia.

Sara Errani, ITA: She was only given a light workload against Ukraine, but it was her win over Kateryna Bondarenko in match #4 that clinched the tie for Italy.

Tzipora Obziler, ISR: Peer may have let down the Israeli team, but Obziler most certainly did not. The newly-turned 35-year old did all she could to keep the team's collective head above water, getting wins over Safarova and Kvitova, but it wasn't enough to prevent a Czech triumph.

Peng Shuai & Team China: Still waiting for that Chinese Revolution to show a few snarling teeth.. Fed Cup disappointment came once again in Beijing, and Peng's failure to be part of even one victory in three attempts in the tie makes one wonder if her post-Michael Chang backslide is now something that cannot be stopped.

Shahar Peer, ISR: The Corporal was AWOL over the weekend. Bageled in the 3rd by Kvitova. Dropped in three sets by Benesova. Then, with a fortunate victory still attainable, going 0-for-3 as part of a doubles pair with Obziler in the deciding match. Coming off such a downer, she'll need all her will to swim rather than sink this week in Prague.

Tamira Paszek, AUT: It's hard to get get too down on a (barely) 17-year old failing to put away an opponent to clinch a win for her team in FC play, but with great talent comes great expectations... especially when the opponent that needs to be taken down is another teenager with a less-heralded reputation to live up to.

Bethanie Mattek, USA
...while the other Americans were losing in the FC SF, Mattek won a $75K in Dothan, Alabama with wins over countrywomen Ashley Weinhold, Asia Muhammad, Alexa Glatch, Jamea Jackson and newly-minted American Varvara Lepchenko in the final. Maybe Bethanie should have been included on that FC roster... if only to see what fashion choices she'd make in an attempt to "accessorize" a Fed Cup uni.

2000 USA def. Spain
2001 Belgium def. Russia
2002 Slovakia def. Spain
2003 France def. USA
2004 Russia def. France
2005 Russia def. France
2006 Italy def. Belgium
2007 Russia def. Italy

CHAMPIONS (3): 2004, 2005, 2007
RUNNERS-UP (2): 1999, 2001
RUNNERS-UP (2, as USSR): 1988, 1990

CHAMPIONS (5): 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998
RUNNERS-UP (4): 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000

2007 FINAL: Morigami d. Bartoli
2008 TOP: Zvonareva/Peer

SF: Zvonareva def. Srebotnik;
Zakopalova def. Kvitova
FINAL: Zvonareva def. Zakopalova

...though I worry about Fed Cup hangover.

2007 FINAL: Sequera d. Wozniak
2008 TOP: Medina-Garrigues/Dulko

SF: Medina-Garrigues d. Garbin; Cirstea d. Rezai
FINAL: Medina-Garrigues def. Cirstea

...though I'd love to be able to talk about one of the young Romanians finally coming through with a title a week from now.

All for now.


Blogger jc valencia said...

what, no mention of sesil playing in fes? or of "the (ex-) debutante" and pavlyuchenkova qualifying to the main draw of the same tourney? :)

Tue Apr 29, 02:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, I have to leave SOMETHING for next week, right? :)

But, yeah, both Karatantcheva and Pavlyuchenkova have already recorded 1st Round wins. As for Jelena,.. well, she's playing as I write this, and I've learned to never take anything for granted when it comes to her (though she did record some nice qualifying wins over Larcher de Brito and Larsson).

Tue Apr 29, 10:05:00 AM EDT  

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