Wk.5- Cups Runneth Over and Empty
On the opening weekend of 2009 Fed Cup action, we got the usual mixed bag of results.
We saw the expected (the Hordettes advanced without dropping a set in singles), the somewhat surprising (not that the Czechs and Italians won, but how handily they did so) and the continuation of a great story (Jelena Dokic went undefeated in her first FC action for Australia since 2000). And that's not even mentioning the most riveting tie of the weekend in Surprise, Arizona, where an American team led by a first-year captain depended on a 17-year old in her FC debut to stage a come-from-behind singles win just to get to the deciding match featuring a 30-year old injury replacement making her own FC debut and the world's co-#1 doubles player, a former South African whose role as the team's most dependable performer was very nearly wasted due to the up-and-down singles results.
In the end, the Americans lived to fight another day... and hope that at least one of the Williams sisters will be around this spring to help send the band of upstarts into an unexpected Fed Cup final.
(Group I - 1st Round)
RUS d. CHN 5-0
ITA d. FRA 5-0
USA d. ARG 3-2
CZE d. ESP 4-1
Flavia Pennetta, ITA:
...the Italians were surprise FC champs in '06, then reached the final again in '07. But, still, the team tends to be underrated. With Amelie Mauresmo and Alize Cornet playing for France, one at least expected a tight battle. Oh, it WAS tight in the first two matches. But Italy won both, then essentially saw the French wave the white flag for the remainder of the weekend. Pennetta opened things by coming back from a set and a break down against Mauresmo, shot an obscene gesture toward the chair umpire at one point, then returned on Day 2 to easily take out Cornet. If there was a single Fed Cup MVP for the weekend, it'd probably be Pennetta.
Liezel Huber, USA: Debuting Captain Mary Joe Fernandez got lucky with a draw that gave the USA's "B" team a beatable opponent in Argentina. Then, when an injured Bethanie Mattek pulled out, MJF added Julie Ditty to the mix, beefing up the doubles portion of the roster but leaving the singles to Jill Craybas and a debuting Melanie Oudin. The U.S. needed two singles wins -- hardly a given -- to get to the doubles match, where Huber would give the Americans a huge advantage. Needless to say, Fernandez was operating without a net. Oudin's come-from-behind win over Betina Jozami in Match #4 made MJF's chess moves look brilliant, as Huber arrived on the scene and shepherded the underrated Ditty through the biggest match of her career in a straight sets win that puts the Americans in the SF against a Czech team that, while tough, is surely a better matchup (especially if the Williams sisters stay home) than one against the Russians or Italians would have been. Huber gets the MVP here, but maybe Fernandez should get a portion of it, as well. Perhaps she should stop off in Vegas on her way home from Arizona, since she surely pulled a royal flush out of the deck in Surprise.
Petra Kvitova, CZE: who needs Vaidisova? Facing off against 2008's FC finalist Spain, Kvitova added yet another honor to her 2009 ledger. She got her first tour title a few weeks ago, and this weekend led the Czech team to an easy 4-1 win over the Spaniards, winning both her singles matches in straights over Carla Suarez-Navarro and Nuria Llagostera-Vives.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS: there really wasn't a MOST valuable player for the Russians, considering the team's deep pool of talent was put on full display with all four roster players winning singles matches in straight sets against the Chinese. Kuznetsova, who got things started with a singles win in the first match, and Elena Dementieva teamed to complete the 5-0 shutout with a three-set doubles victory.
(Group II - 1st Round)
SVK d. BEL 4-1
GER d. SUI 3-2
SRB d. JPN 4-1
UKR d. ISR 3-2
Dominika Cibulkova, SVK: Cibulkova followed up her Hopman Cup title with another leading role under the flag of the Slovak Republic. She went 2-0 in singles over a Belgian team that's seeing the last remnants of La Petit Taureau's accomplishments dry up as it continues it's gradual fall back to the pre-Henin/Clijsters position in FC zone play. Of course, with both retired Waffles announcing their roles in later-in-the-season exhibitions, might a return in the future be at least something that could be legitimately discussed leading into 2010?
Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER: things didn't start well for ALG, as she was stunned by Patty Schnyder in the first match in the GER/SUI tie. But with the Germans down 2-1 on Day 2, Groenefeld took control, winning 3 & 1 in singles over Timea Bacsinszky and teaming with Tatjana Malek in doubles to defeat Schnyder and Stephanie Voegele to squeak by the Swiss.
Jelena Jankovic, SRB: both JJ and AnaIvo were in action against the Japanese, as Serbia continues to climb the FC ladder (a win in April will send the team into the final 8 for 2010). Both defeated Ai Sugiyama and Ayumi Morita in straight sets, but JJ allowed just six games to Ivanovic's eleven.
Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR: while Russia's depth was used to its fullest, Ukraine relied solely on the Sisters Bondarenko against Israel. It almost wasn't enough, as Shahar Peer took out both of them in singles and it came down to the deciding doubles match. After a bad few weeks as an all-sister team, the Bondarenkos came together when it counted, defeating Peer and Tzipora Obziler to seal the 3-2 victory.
EST d. BLR 2-0 (Europe/Africa I)
POL d. GBR 2-1 (Europe/Africa I)
AUS d. NZL 3-0 (Asia/Oceania I)
CAN d. PAR 3-0 (Americas I)
Kai Kanepi, EST: she got a win over Tsvetana Pironkova in Round Robin play, then upset Victoria Azarenka in the Europe/Africa playoff against Belarus.
Agnieszka Radwanska, POL: things didn't go smoothly for A-Rad. She lost to Mervana Jugic-Salkic in RR play, but managed to get Poland into the second Europe/Africa playoff. She edged Anne Keothavong 7-6/7-6 there, preventing the Brits from pulling off a big upset. In the next match, the Poles got a doubles win from Jans/Rosolska to get by Great Britain 2-1.
Samantha Stosur, AUS: Dokic was the story, but Stosur was the lead player for Australia. It was a risk, considering Dokic's recent great play and Stosur's inability to close out matches, but it worked out. Stosur got a great comeback win from 4-6/2-5 down against Tamarine Tanasugarn in RR play, and maybe used that burst of confidence to power her way past Marina Erakovic in the playoff.
Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN: A-Woz and Stephanie Dubois split up the match play for Canada, and teamed in doubles to shut out Paraguay in the playoff. Wozniak wiped out Rossana de los Rios in singles, allowing just one game to the veteran, giving her a slight edge for MVP.
Jelena Dokic, AUS: her play in the Asia/Oceania group was Dokic's first FC action since 2004, and first for Australia since 2000. In the #2 singles role, she went 3-0 against lesser competition than was faced by Sam Stosur, running her career FC singles record to 14-2 (12-2 for AUS). Quick Quiz!! Name two players that a then-17 year old Dokic defeated in her last FC tie for Australia. ANSWER: Kim Clijsters and Anna Kournikova.
Shahar Peer, ISR: Peer's great singles play -- wins over both Bondarenkos -- nearly single-handedly got a win for Israel. It didn't, but it DID signal that the Corporal might finally be back on track. Of course, considering she defeated the roll-the-dice Bondarenkos... who's to REALLY know, right?
Anne Keothavong, GBR: while the young Brits are making waves in the juniors, Keothavong is really coming into her own at age 25. She'd already gotten off to a good start in '09 before she capably led the GBR team this past week. She went 3-0 in Round Robin play, getting wins over Agnes Szavay and Arantxa Rus. In the Europe/Africa zone playoff against Poland, while attempting to complete an upset of the Poles, she came up short in two tie-breaks against A-Rad, then was part of the losing doubles team, too. Oh, well. She's still on track for a career-best season.
Mervana Jugic-Salkic, BIH: unlike Keothavong, ITF star Jugic-Salkic DID get a win over A-Rad, a 1-6/6-4/7-6 victory in a RR meeting between Poland and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Patty Schnyder, SUI: poor, Patty. She did so much this weekend for Switzerland, but it all eventually went for nothing. She opened things with a big win over Groenefeld, then backed it up with a Day 2 victory over Sabine Lisicki to give SUI a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five affair. But when she and Voegele couldn't put away the doubles match against ALG/Malek, the Swiss ended up losing anyway.
Francesca Schiavone, ITA: Schiavone led the Italians to a FC title in 2006, and she's still putting up her best results when playing in the team environment. Her 8-6 3rd set win over Cornet gave Italy a 2-0 lead in the tie against France, and pretty much took the heart out of the Pastries' effort on Day 2.
Julie Ditty, USA: with so many USTA circuit titles under her belt, doubles almost-specialist Ditty wasn't quite the babe-in-the-woods that Tennis Channel's announcers made her out to be on Sunday, but taking part in the USA/ARG tie's deciding match, in her FC debut at age 30, surely was the biggest moment of her career. She came through with flying colors, too... and might have earned herself another future invite whenever the Williamses can't make the date.
Melanie Oudin, USA:
...it's early in 2009, but the young American Bannerettes are showing some definite personality -- and they all seem to be fighters. First, it was Christina McHale in Melbourne, and this weekend it was 17-year old Oudin in Surprise. In her FC debut weekend, in a match she HAD to win, Oudin clawed her way back from a set deficit against Betina Jozami, an ill-timed rain delay when she was leading 4-0 in the 2nd set, and an early 0-2 hole in the 3rd to track down a 2-6/6-1/6-2 victory that allowed Huber/Ditty to put away the victory in doubles. In 2008's FC opening weekend, it was Ashley Harkleroad who pulled the U.S. team out of the fire. This time it was Oudin. But unlike with Harkleroad, Oudin's fortunes for the rest of the season will continue to take place ON the court (and IN her clothes).
Alisa Kleybanova, RUS: after starring in Oz, Kleybanova was thrown the fourth match in Russia's tie with China. She held up her end, completing the Hordettes' all-sets sweep of the singles with her win in straights over Sun Tiantian.
Team France: Mauresmo opening things by blowing a set and a break lead to Pennetta. Cornet followed up by pushing Schiavone to three sets, but losing the deciding stanza 8-6. Down 0-2 after Day 1, neither won a set in their Day 2 singles matches.
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP: in 2008, it was CSN's uprising that helped push Spain into the FC final. Against the Czechs, a week after her career-best run in Melbourne, she must have suffered a letdown. She didn't win a single set against either Kvitova or Lucie Safarova in Spain's 4-1 loss.
(ITF PLAYER OF THE WEEK)
Julia Vakulenko, UKR
...great news for Vakulenko backers. After pulling off so many eye-opening victories (she ended Clijsters' career, remember), but struggling even more often with injuries, Julia is on the comeback trail. She hasn't played a tour match since last September (naturally, a retirement in Bali), but she's been recently making appearances in ITF events in California. This weekend, she won one. A former world #32, the now-#349 made her way through qualifying and eventually claimed the Rancho Mirage $25K title, destroying Lauren Albanese 6-0/6-1 in the final.
1. FRA/ITA 1st Rd. - Pennetta d. Mauresmo
...2-6/7-6/6-4. When Flavia flashed that finger she was just saying, "You're #1." Well, you know.
2. FRA/ITA 1st Rd. - Schiavone d. Cornet
...6-2/2-6/8-6 Is Dinara's Ghost going to haunt Alize all season?
3. AUS/THA Asia/Oceania RR - Stosur d. Tanasugarn
...4-6/7-5/6-0. Could this match, where Stosur broke Tanasugarn and won eleven straight games to win the match, be the moment that her confidence is finally stoked and her singles results turn around?
4. USA/ARG 1st Rd. - Oudin d. Jozami
...2-6/6-1/6-2 Pint-sized Oudin's scrambling game should translate well to clay.
5. USA/ARG 1st Rd. - Huber/Ditty d. Dulko/Jozami
...6-2/6-3. Poor Jozami. She was a part of all three of Argentina's losses in the tie. Poor Dulko, too. She did all she could to get a win for Argentina, but it wasn't enough.
6. EST/BLR Europe/Africa PO - Kanepi d. Azarenka
...2-6/6-3/6-1. Is Victoria still thinking about that match with Serena?
7. POL/BIH Europe/Africa RR - Jugic-Salkic d. A.Radwanska
...1-6/6-4/7-6. An A-Rad blip, or more evidence of a slow start to her season that is going to soon begin to cause her ranking to begin a downward tumble?
8. DEN/BLR Europe/Africa RR - Wozniacki d. Azarenka
....6-3/6-3. An interesting "deep cut" FC matchup from the Round Robin zone play.
**FED CUP SF**
Russia vs. Italy
United States vs. Czech Republic
**GROUP I PLAYOFF TEAMS**
**GROUP II PLAYOFF TEAMS**
PARIS, FRANCE (Premiere $700K/Greenset Indoor)
2008 FINAL: Chakvetadze d. Szavay
2009 TOP: S.Williams/Jankovic
S.Williams def. Dementieva
Jankovic def. Kleybanova
S.Williams def. Jankovic
...a year ago, Chakvetadze and Szavay reached the final here. Not much good has happened for either since. Not that the Paris indoors final is cursed or anything... I'm just sayin'. Still, this year's finalists should take nothing for granted. I'll go with Serena, who might not really be INTO this event so soon after Melbourne. But this is the biggest tour title to come along so far in '09 other than the Australian Open, so...
PATTAYA CITY, THAILAND (Int'l/Hard Outdoor)
2008 FINAL: A.Radwanska d. Craybas
2009 TOP: Zvonareva/Wozniacki
Zvonareva def. Peer
Wozniacki def. Cibulkova
Zvonareva def. Wozniacki
...Peer and Cibulkova had great weekends, but Zvonareva had a good week's rest after reaching the Oz semifinals.
All for now.