Wk.16- The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same (Pt.II)
After the first weekend of 2010 Fed Cup action saw the same four nations that reached the semifinals in 2009 do so again this season, the results of the second FC weekend of the year means we'll soon have a rematch of last November's final, as well.
A quick rundown of some things gleaned from the weekend:
*SIX THINGS THAT ARE CLEAR*
1. Icelandic volcano ash and Russian tennis federations don't mix. Hmmm, considering the Chinese were late to their tie, maybe it's a Communism thing.
2. Win or lose, Melanie Oudin is a big match, big event player... but we already knew that
3. Elena Dementieva always gives it her all, but, Gold Medal aside, she usually ends up with one of those "All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" type of feelings in the end. I guess when she began the week having to use her hockey-playing boyfriend as a hitting partner she should have known things wouldn't end well on Sunday.
4. After she got hurt in her last FC appearance and swore off participating thereafter, it's apparent that Justine Henin and the FC Injury Gods STILL aren't on speaking terms... she broke a finger in PRACTICE this time around
5. Peng Shuai saved the Chinese team from continued FC embarrassment with her remarkable, sweep-preventing come-from-behind win, even if the elation was short-lived and the team STILL hasn't won a tie since appearing in the semifinals in 2008
6. Considering Russia's reaction to its Winter Olympic disappointment, the FC crew (even the ones who never made it to Birmingham) might want to watch their backs
*TWO THAT SHOULD BE REMEMBERED*
1. The Italians will likely be favored against Mary Joe Fernandez's Bannerettes in the Final in November. But, then again, MJF's crews have overcome long odds before (and will play on home turf). Hard courts will help the American cause, but Pennetta & Co. aren't exactly shabby in important non-clay contests, either (just ask Vera Zvonareva).
2. The Bannerettes seem to gain strength from the absence of the Sisters, using their further-heightened underdog status as a rallying cry, but someone should mention to them that veiled references to absent American stars doesn't lead anyone to believe that Ashley Harkleroad is being subtly dissed. One day, Venus or Serena might want/be able to play, and it's not smart to be striking so many matches around wooden bridges.
*and ONE THAT I CAN'T "TAKE CREDIT" FOR, EVEN THOUGH THE CIRCUMSTANCES ARE ODD, TO SAY THE LEAST*
Jada's Muscle-Tearing Mom just had her name essentially erased from the Roland Garros contenders list since her weekend foot injury will likely keep her out up to six weeks (hmm, in a comment at the end of a recent post the other day I mentioned how a broken foot once put me in a cast for six weeks... coincidence?), and maybe prevent her from playing in Paris. But, considering her last clay event result, and her scarcity of matches on the surface going back to 2006, not showing up is probably the easiest way out for her in the next slam anyway. Over the years, she's seemed to come to the realization (more like a "belief," though) that she couldn't ever see herself winning RG, and her actions, results and fate seem to have decided to play along with the Belgian who came within a champagne cork of winning the title in Paris back in 2001.
One down, a handful more to go. Barbie is probably out, while Justine just lost to an Estonian in a potentially tie-clinching match. Serena remains a question mark. And '09 EuroClay superstars Kuznetsova and Safina are just returning from injury layoffs this week. Meanwhile, virtually everyone else who'll be in the RG draw will be either unreliable slam contenders or would be considered "unexpected" champions were they to win it all.
Yep, Paris might just be quite interesting.
*WEEK 16 - FED CUP*
Italy(H) def. Czech Republic 5-0
United States(H) def. Russia 3-2
=WORLD GROUP PLAYOFFS=
Belgium(H) def. Estonia 3-2
Australia def. Ukraine(H) 5-0
France def. Germany(H) 3-2
Slovak Republic def. Serbia(H) 3-2
=GROUP II PLAYOFFS=
Spain def. Poland(H) 4-1
Canada(H) def. Argentina 5-0
Slovenia(H) def. Japan 4-1
Sweden(H) def. China 3-2
Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (overall Player of the Week)
...Mattek-Sands, as expected, lost to Dementieva in the tie's second match, knotting the score at 1-1. But when everything was on the line, she outlasted Ekaterina Makarova when the Russian was playing to clinch a spot in the Final, then teamed with Liezel Huber to take out Dementieva and Alla Kudryavtseva in straight sets in the deciding doubles match to send the Bannerettes to an unexpected second consecutive appearance in the FC championship. Barring the arrival of a Williams come November, Mattek-Sands will have to pull such successful double-duty again in the fall if the U.S. is to have a shot at its first FC title in a decade.
...it's hard to pick an MVP when the Italians wipe out an opponent 5-0, sweeping all ten sets in the tie, as the defending champs did against the Czechs. Still, you can never go wrong sticking with Madame Butterfly, who took down both Lucie Hradecka and Petra Kvitova.
[WG PLAYOFFS MVPs]
...once again, the Belgian team was lucky to have Wickmayer. Henin was injured before play began and was scheduled to only play doubles, but when the Squeegee Queen injured her foot she was called into singles duty... and promptly lost a marathon match. Providing a steady presence, Wickmayer won both her singles matches against Kaia Kanepi and Maret Ani in a pair of three-setters to lead her nation back to the 2011 World Group... where she'll likely have to grab the reigns all by herself yet again since the Big Two probably won't risk injury by playing next February.
...Slingin' Sammy extended her Charleston momentum, going 2-0 in Australia's by-the-book sweep of Ukraine. With the right matchups in 2011, the resurgent Australian women's tennis contingent might have an outside shot at reaching the nation's first FC final since 1993.
...France was looking for new FC stars, and quite a few stepped up against Germany. Aravane Rezai knotted the score at 1-1 with a win over Tatjana Malek, and Alize Cornet & Julie Coin put away the tie in the deciding doubles match. But it was Parmentier's win over Julia Goerges with the tie on Deutschland's racket in Match #4 that kept the Pastries alive long enough to dream of a return to the World Group. As it turned out, the dream came true.
...Hantuchova continued to add depth to her 2010 Comeback Player campaign by winning her rematch with Jelena Jankovic, and then successfully teaming with Magdalena Rybarikova to defeat Jankovic and Bopana Jovanovski in the deciding doubles match.
[Group II Playoffs MVPs]
Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP
...proving her ability to shine on all surfaces, MJMS swept her two carpet matches in Poland against Agnieszka Radwanska and Marta Domachowska as the Spaniards won three straight singles rubbers to offset A-Rad's opening match win over Carla Suarez-Navarro and claim the tie.
...cleaning up the potential mess that Sofia Arvidsson nearly made of the Sweden/China tie, Larsson's second win (which came today, after the lingering volcanic ash had prevented the Chinese team from arriving in Sweden for the scheduled start of play on Saturday and made this a Sunday/Monday affair) finaly got Sweden the victory. Larsson, who also starred in FC action when Arvidsson faltered in February, knocked off Peng in Match #1, then clinched things with a victory over Zhang Shuai in #4.
...A-Woz's 2010 tour results have been spotty, but she was on point for Canada against the Dulko-less Argentines. Her two straight sets wins over Paula Ormaechea and Jorgelina Cravero provided the foundation for her nation's 5-0 sweep.
...after going 3-0 in February in her first FC action since 2005, Srebotnik went 2-0 this time, taking out Japan's top two players -- Kimiko Date-Krumm & Ayumi Morita -- in straight sets to power Slovenia to the win.
RISERS: Kaia Kanepi/EST & Anastasia Rodionova/AUS
...Estonia didn't pull the upset of the Belgians, but the enigmatic Kanepi's 2:30 win over Henin surely made things more interesting than anyone had the right to expect them to be. Meanwhile, newly-minted Aussie Rodionova opened up Australia's tie with Ukraine by losing the 1st set at love to Alona Bondarenko... then proceeded to win the next two sets to set off the Sheilas on their winning weekend.
SURPRISES: Julie Coin/Alize Cornet, FRA & Valerie Tetreault/CAN
...never seeing the court in the tie's four singles matches didn't prevent Coin and Cornet from thriving in the pressurized deciding doubles match against Germany's Sabine Lisicki and Andrea Petkovic. The Pastry pair won 6-3/6-1. After seeing how Coin's career (which once seemed on the verge of ending prematurely) has been changed by her '08 U.S. Open win over Ana Ivanvoic, maybe this win will get Cornet, who came into the weekend on the heels of a 1st Round defeat in Charleston, headed in the right direction after more than a year of disappointing results, too. For Canada, Tetrealt provided nice second string support for Wozniak, knocking off the same pair of Argentines (Ormaechea & Cravero) as her countrywoman in singles action.
VETERANS: Liezel Huber/USA & Francesca Schiavone/ITA
...it's remarkable how many times the U.S.'s Fed Cup ties have come down to the doubles match since Huber was able to be added to the roster. In many ways, her dominating team leader & doubles presence has eliminated a great deal of the backlash that might have been pointed in the Sisters' direction had MJF's 2009-10 teams fallen flat rather than soared to unexpected heights. Make no mistake about it, the former South African has been the Bannerettes' overall MVP since she stepped onto the court under an American flag. Huber & Mattek-Sands provided the winning margin against Russia, and it wouldn't be shocking if Huber is called in for an eleventh hour save again come November, as well. Schiavone often gets somewhat shunted aside in favor of Pennetta when it comes to Itay's FC success, but for years it was on that team stage that she had her greatest career achievements. Against the Czechs, she continued to shine with a 6-0/6-2 win over Lucie Safarova and a share of the victory in the doubles tie.
FRESH FACES: Melanie Oudin/USA & Polona Hercog/SLO
...Oudin's star continues to rise as she shines on American soil. She followed up her Charleston QF with a win over Alla Kudryavtseva (she came back from early deficits in both sets to get her first win over a Hordette since her U.S. Open run), and pushed Dementieva to three sets in a contest that possibly tired out the Russian just enough to make her somewhat less effective in the doubles decider later in the day. Meanwhile, Hercog's important three-set win over Morita in the second match of the Slovenia/Japan tie gave her country the 2-0 bulge on the scoreboard from which the Japanese could never recover.
DOWN: The Belgian "Big Two"
...Belgium defeated Estonia, but it came with a price. Two, actually. Henin broke her left picky in practice before play began, then lost a three-setter against Kanepi (not exactly a boost to the notion that she'll pick up where she left off in Paris next month). Of course, she was only playing that match because the foot injury that Barbie suffered in her opening match win over Ani turned out to be far worse than anticipated -- a muscle tear that will likely keep her off tour for six weeks, meaning if she shows up in Roland Garros she'll have had ZERO tune-up events on clay. PREDICTION: Jada will get some extra time with mom in late May and early June, then will get to frolick on the grass a little earlier than expected.
ITF PLAYER: Edina Gallovits/ROU
...in the Dothan $50K challenger, Gallovits won her second challenger event of the season, taking out Anastasiya Yakimova in straight sets in the final. She notched additional wins over Evgeniya Rodina and Laura Robson (love & two in the SF).
ITF FRESH FACES: Monica Puig/PUR & Sachie Ishizu/JPN
...Puerto Rico's Puig, the 16-year old #2-ranked junior in the world, qualified and won her first pro title in the $10K challenger in Torrent, Spain, defeating top-seeded Nanuli Pipiya of Russia in the final. This was just Puig's second appearance in the main draw of a pro event, and just last month she claimed her first career Grade 1 in the Copa Gerdau junior event while carrying around a racket emblazoned with an "I Believe" motto. Oudin's legacy continues to evolve. Elsewhere, in the $10K challenger in Mie, Japan, world junior #7 Ishizu claimed her second consecutive pro title. The 17-year old defeated countrywoman Yumi Nakano in the final.
JUNIOR STAR: Sophia Kovalets/UKR
...the 15-year old Ukrainian followed up her recent Grade 2 Girls title with her first career Grade 1 championship in the junior event in Beaulieu Sur Mer, France. She defeated Yulia Putintseva 7-5/5-7/6-3 in the final.
1. Group II PO - SWE/CHN #3: Peng d. Arvidsson
...6-7/6-1/8-6. Facing the prospect of being eliminated with three straight losses to Sweden, Peng came off the mat to extend China's 2010 FC participation. Arvidsson twice served for the match and held eight (count 'em, EIGHT) match points.
2. FC SF - USA/RUS #4: Mattek-Sands d. Makarova
...6-4/2-6/6-3. In her Fed Cup debut, Makarova had the chance to put Russia back into the final. It wasn't meant to be. You know, sort of like how Bethanie's fashion sense will never make knee-high tube socks an everyday sight again on the world's sports stages.
3. FC WG PO - BEL/EST #1: Brian's Wife d. Ani 6-4/6-2
FC WG PO - BEL/EST #3: Kanepi d. Henin 6-7/6-4/6-3
...a break, a tear and a loss. How much did the personality of the remaining three-quarters of the season change with these two matches?
4. FC SF - USA/RUS #3: Dementieva d. Oudin
...7-6/0-6/6-3. In their second intense-but not-exactly-sterling meeting of 2010, the pair teamed up to total ten (count 'em, TEN) breaks of serve in the game's first ten games in a 1:06 opening set that ended with Oudin's trilogy-plus-one of errors erasing her 4-3 lead in the tie-break.
5. FC WG PO - BEL/EST #4: Wickmayer d. Ani
...2-6/6-1/6-1. If Wickmayer had dropped this one, Estonia might have made a shocking appearance in the World Group 1st Round next February.
6. FC WG PO - SVK/SRB #3: Hantuchova d. Jankovic
...7-6/7-6. JJ got a chance to reverse that three-set Charleston loss to Hantuchova. In front of a Serbian crowd, she lost in straight sets.
7. $50K Dothan 1st Rd - Jamie Hampton d. Alexandra Stevenson
...6-0/3-6/6-0. Not-so-strangely enough, with Stevenson, a scoreline like this isn't that odd at all.
8. $25K Bari Final - Z.Kucova d. Z.Ondraskova
...6-4/6-2. The Slovak beats the Czech in "The Battle of the Zuzanas."
9. $25K Poza Rica Final - Lauren Albanese d. Julia Cohen
...6-4/6-1. Remember Albanese? Now 21, the American swept the singles and doubles in this Mexican challenger event that proved to be quite an oasis in the tennis desert for the former junior star. Her 5-0 singles record for the week must have come as quite a shock to her, considering she'd slumped into the event on a ten-match losing streak that extended back to November of last year.
10. Fes Q's - Soler-Espinoza d. Paszek
...6-3/7-5. At this point, Henin's comment from a few years back about Paszek possibly being a Top 5 player one day isn't looking very accurate.
**RECENT FED CUP FINALS**
2004 Russia def. France
2005 Russia def. France
2006 ITALY def. Belgium
2007 Russia def. ITALY
2008 Russia def. Spain
2009 ITALY def. UNITED STATES
2010 ITALY at UNITED STATES
=2011 World Group=
=2011 Group II=
STUTTGART, GERMANY (Premier $700K/red clay indoor/outdoor)
09 Final: Kuzentsova d. Safina
10 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Safina
Stosur d. Wozniacki
Henin d. A.Radwanska
Stosur d. Henin
...it looks like Wozniacki is going to play (hope she doesn't live to regret it and wish she'd given her ankle injury another week to rest). Stuttgart is where the '09 trilogy of Kuznetsova vs. Safina finals began, and again this event marks the beginning of something for the two Russians, as both are returning from injuries (a shoulder and back, respectively) that have put their EuroClay effectiveness and Paris chances in jeopardy. Conceivably, the two could meet in the final again, but that's probably not likely. Still, it's one of a slew of matches in Stuttgart that might raise a few eyebrows and begin to tell the story of this year's clay season. How about 1st Round meetings of Pennetta/Azarenka, Kuznetsova/Srebotnik, Bartoli/Stosur, Wickmayer/Schiavone and A-Rad/AnaIvo? Not enough? Well, the 2nd Round could produce Kuznetsova/Li and/or Henin/Wickmayer. Hold on for more. The QF might include Wozniacki/Pennetta, Kuznetsova/Stosur, A-Rad/Safina and, here it comes, Henin/Jankovic. And THIS is the remaining draw after several big names pulled out with injuries? Sheesh, talk about an embarassment of riches. If the likes of Wozniacki, Kuznetsova, Stosur, Jankovic, Safina or someone else wins this one, they're suddenly in the opening day discussion for Paris, if they weren't already. If Henin wins, maybe all the fretting about her chances at RG in this spot have been much ado about nothing. If she doesn't, well... you know. I'll go the blasphemous route and pick Stosur, but secretly hope that Justine has been hiding Rafa-like in the weeds waiting to remind everyone again what Paris used to be like in the springtime.
FES, MOROCCO (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Medina-Garrigues d. Makarova
10 Top Seeds: Suarez-Navarro/Schnyder
Suarez-Navarro d. Benesova
Schnyder d. Parmentier
Suarez-Navarro d. Schnyder
...not as many mouth-watering potential matchups to consider here, though anytime Schnyder hits the court something inspiring COULD happen. Maybe even a title? Urrr, I just can't go there, even though she did look pretty good at times in Charleston. So, in the continuing quest to ONE DAY get a first-ever title pick from CSN correct, I'll step into those murky waters yet again.
All for now.