Saturday, February 08, 2014

FC Day 1 Update: Here, There and Nowhere

In a week of Fed Cup news that was initially dominated by the discussion of who wasn't on many rosters, the absences grew even larger as the week went along. Some were off the court, but many took place on it.

As the week went along, players who were originally slated to play (i.e. Caroline Wozniacki) eventually disappeared from rosters, a player (Lucie Safarova) already charged with taking the place of an ill player (Petra Kvitova) ended up pulling out of singles herself due to illness, and a team of "B"-team Chinese was relegated to "C"-team when the top two players played in a total of one of eight possible singles matches.

Meanwhile, even when players were on the court, they might have been better off staying away, as Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova continued the Slovak dramatic production of the "The Heimlich Maneuver: Fed Cup Edition" by failing to convert a match point and send her team down the FC rabbit hole and expected disaster and, playing the #1 U.S. singles position, Christina McHale did what you'd expect when told that McHale was going to be playing the #1 U.S. singles position -- she competed well, for a bit, then came up very small in a clutch 3rd set.

Some Fed Cup notes from Day 1 of weekend action:

**WORLD GROUP 1st Round**
...the four WG match-ups see all four leading teams without a loss heading into Day 2.

In Cleveland, Christina McHale was put into place by coach Mary Joe Fernandez in the lead singles spot against Italy's best roster player, Karin Knapp, rather than MJF choosing to use up Madison Keys there (or maybe give Alison Riske a shot) and put the usually-folds-under-pressure McHale in the more "winnable" match against Camila Giorgi. So, right from the start, the scoreline read: Italy 1, Fernandez 0. It was a lead that was impossible for the U.S. to overcome. To her credit, the "team veteran" with four FC wins, McHale put up a little fight. But she's been known to falter in the clutch, and it happened again. Knapp took the 1st set, but McHale won the 2nd to force things to a 3rd. There, though, McHale came up small while the Italian's play got better. She went up 4-0 before McHale cut the two-break lead in half, only to give it back a game later as Knapp won 6-3/3-6/6-1. The match set the tone for the day, and likely the entire weekend, for the Bannerettes. In the next match, Keys, with even more pressure on her debuting shoulders after McHale's loss, double-faulted on set point to give Giorgi the 1st, ultimately losing 6-2/6-1. The Italians are here, while the Americans never were. Maybe Alison Riske can salvage something on Day 2 if given the shot?

In Seville, the rain in Spain ruled the day. Play was delayed, then when it finally began it took six hours to play the 52-minute match won by Carla Suarez-Navarro over replacement-for-the-replacement Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova to put the illness-plagued Czech team down 1-0. That was the only match played on Saturday, as things are slated to start even earlier on Sunday in an attempt to get the whole tie completed this weekend. Even with Lucie Safarova (so far, at least?) out of singles, I still think the Czechs have a shot here. 1-0 is better than 2-0, and if the Czechs can get to Maria Teresa Torro-Flor in singles this thing can still come down to the doubles.

In Bratislava, one season after the Slovaks blew a 2-0 Day 1 lead to Russia in the semifinals, they've apparently decided to see how "the other half" lives, as the Slovak Republic is down 2-0 to the loaded German team. Of course, it didn't have to be be this way. In the opening match, Cibulkova faced off with Andrea Petkovic, playing a big role with Sabine Lisicki's injury-related absence, and was in command. After dropping the 1st set, the German was forced to hold at 4-5 and 5-6 to stay in the match before forcing a tie-break, in which she raced to a 5-0 lead. But Cibulkova reeled off six straight points to reach match point, only to dump a weak service return into the net. Petkovic went on to win 2-6/7-6(6)/6-2, then Angelique Kerber took out Daniela Hantuchova in Match #2 to give the Gemans a seemingly-insurmountable lead (just what I said after Day 1 of SVK/RUS, I believe). Hantuchova had two set points in the 1st, only to lose an 11-9 tie-break to drop the 1:07 opening stanza of a 7-6(9)/6-1 loss.

In Hobart, nothing was unexpected. While Maria Sharaporva was carrying the Olympic torch in Sochi, and Alexandra Panova was losing in Doha qualifying, the young Hordette squad led by coach Anastasia Myskina was getting schooled by the more veteran Aussies. Still, the Russians, as was the case in the 2013 final against Italy, showed that playing with pride has nothing to do with experience. 18-year old Irina Khromacheva dropped Match #1 to Casey Dellacqua, in her first FC singles since 2009, by a 6-0/6-2 score, but the youngster didn't fold in the 2nd set and even had Myskina out of her chair applauded her efforts. In the second match, 16-year old Veronika Kudermetova took on Samantha Stosur. Sporting a big serve and few nerves, the Junior FC star was in the 1st set all the way, getting broken for 3-4 but immediately breaking back a game later. Stosur won the set 6-4, but Kudermetova's service games were good enough to prevent the Aussie from registering a winner on the Russian's serve during the set. The Aussie took the 2nd at love, but the Russian was more than happy about her efforts on the day after that match. As it was all week, though, this one is a foregone conclusion and the Aussies will reach their first FC semifinal since 1993.

...while the World Group is a bit lopsided, quite the opposite is the case with World Group II.

In Montreal, "Serbia Bad Luck Charm" Vesna Dolonc continued to live up to her name. She led Aleksandra Wozniak 5-1 in the 1st set of Match #1, only to drop six straight games and double-fault on SP to hand the Canadian the set. Dolonc took things to a 3rd, where Wozniak converted a late break for a 4-2 lead. Dolonc got back on serve at 5-4, but then dropped her serve one game later as Wozniak won 7-5/2-6/6-4. Genie Bouchard allowed just one game to Jovana Jaksic in the second singles match of Day 1. I suppose there's a chance that "Serbian Good Luck Charm" Aleksandra Krunic could still play a part in an important doubles match, but it isn't likely. Well, not unless the "SBLC" can upset Bouchard. So, in other words, the chances are slim.

In Boras, Sweden, the Swedes and the Poles are knotted at 1-1, as Aga Radwanska tied things up with a win over Sofia Arvidsson after Johanna Larsson opened play with a win over Katarzyna Piter. A-Rad opens play on Day 2 with a match against Larsson. She should win, but there's more of a chance of an upset there than in her match today. Either way, Poland is going to need Piter to steal a win over Arvidsson to ensure a win in this tie, because if things go to doubles it'll be the veteran pair of Arvidsson/Larsson -- longtime FC teammates who've played some big doubles matches before) -- who'll likely be on the other side of the net. And with Ula out injured, Aga can't be expected to have the successful chemistry with another partner that she'd have with her little sister.

In Paris, Amelie Mauresmo surprisingly put veteran Virginie Razzano into the lead singles role over Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic. As it turned out, it payed off. The 30-year old easily downed Stefanie Voegele 6-2/6-1 in Match #1. It turned out to be an even greater hunch by Mauresmo when 16-year old Belinda Bencic, in her FC singles debut, took out a tired and coughing Alize Cornet on the same court on which the Pastry played twelve hours last week while reaching the Paris indoors semifinals. After falling down 5-2 in the 1st, the Swiss teen reeled off seven straight games to take the set and, eventually, the match 7-5/6-4. Day 2's meeting between the youngster (Bencic) and the veteran (Razzano) might just decide this tie.

In Buenos Aires, world #65 Kurumi Nara put up a whale of a fight on the red clay against world #173 Maria Irigoyen, but it went for naught. The Argentine won 6-7/6-4/6-4 in 3:39, on her fourth MP, to put Argentina up 1-0. Paula Ormaechea then followed up with a three-set win over Misaki Doi. It was a good effort by the underdog (and "out-surfaced") Japanese, but such a similarly-tight set of matches on Day 2 isn't likely.

**Zone Play**
=EUROPE/AFRICA I at Hungary=
...two teams will be promoted out of this zone to spring's WG II Playoffs, and it's down to Netherlands/Belarus and Romania/Ukraine.

The Dutch team, led by Kiki Bertens and Richel Hogenkamp, dusted off all three pool opponents by 3-0 scores during the week, including Belgium (w/ Yanina Wickmayer and An-Sophie Mestach) and Croatia (w/ Petra Martic and Donna Vekic). They'll next face a Vika-less Belarusian team that has seen both Olga Govortsova and Aliaksandra Sasnovich go 3-0 this week.

The other promotional playoff match should be a good one. The Romanians reaching this stage is no surprise, as the team of Halep, Cirstea, Niculescu and Begu is better than arguably all but two -- GER and SVK -- of the sixteen lineups above the Swarmettes in World Group action this week. The Romanians went 5-1 in singles in pool play, with the only loss coming when Simona Halep lost to Hungary's Timea Babos. The Ukrainian team has been led by Elina Svitolina, who went 3-0 in singles, though it's the doubles combo of Lyudmula Kichenok and Olga Savchuk -- 3-0 -- that could end up being very key in the match-up with Romania.

=AMERICAS I at Paraguay='ll be host Paraguay against Brazil in the promotional playoff. The Brazilians won their pool by emerging with the victory in the tie-deciding match-up with Colombia, as Paula Cristina Goncalves knocked off Catalina Castano while Teliana Pereira took out Mariana Duque-Marino.

Montserrat Gonzalez and Veronica Cepede are both 4-0 so far for Paraguay.

=ASIA/OCEANIA I at Kazakhstan= pool play that was expected to center around the Chinese and the host Kazakhs, both nation's teams came up small. At least the Kazakhs were beaten on the court, losing Pool A when AO star Luksika Kumkhum upset Yaroslava Shvedova 0-6/6-4/6-1, then teamed with Tamarine Tanasugarn to defeat Shvedova & Galina Voskoboeva in straight sets to give Thailand a 2-1 win to claim the pool and reach the promotion playoff.

There they met not the Chinese, but the Uzbekis. While the Chinese sported a lineup that included two Top 50 players -- Peng Shuai & Zhang Shuai -- the singles spots were taken by #256 Wang Qiang and #312 Lui Fangzhou. In both nations' opening pool tie, the Uzbekis won 2-1 (Wang won her singles match, while Lui lost to Sabina Sharipova, then joined with Zhang to drop the doubles to Nigina Abduraimova & Sharipova).

In the promotional playoff, Kumkhum continued her star-making run. After Noppawan Lertcheewakarn dropped the opening match to 19-year old Sharipova, Kumkhum knotted things with a win over Abduraimova, and then she and Tanasugarn again won another big doubles match to win the playoff with a three-set win over Abduraimova/Sharipova.

Meanwhile, in the 3rd/4th place they-should-both-be-above-this match-up, Kazakhstan defeated China with wins from Sesil Karatantcheva and Yulia Putintseva.

=ASIA/OCEANIA II at Kazakhstan=
...Sania Mirza (IND) and Marina Erakovic (NZL) were the top players here, but both their teams were in the same pool. India defeated the Kiwis 2-1 with a doubles win by Mirza (who didn't play singles, but was also team captain) and Prarthana Thombare over Erakovic and Abigail Guthrie to claim the pool.

But it wasn't the Indians who advanced. Instead, they lost in the first part of the promotional playoffs to Hong Kong, which went on to defeat the Philippines in the final round on the back of 24-year old Zhang Ling, who was 4-0 in singles for the week.

...with their pool's respective winners slated to face each in the promotional playoff, both Estonia and Denmark couldn't produce successful weeks even though they were the two best teams in the zone. Then, when Wozniacki's name fell off the original roster, it all seemed a fait accompli.

It was, too. Still, Denmark managed to win its pool with Karen Barbat (world #605) playing lead singles. Not that it mattered, as the Danes lost the promotional playoff 2-0 to Estonia as both Kaia Kanepi and Anett Kontaveit finished off undefeated weeks. In the other promotional playoff, Ireland defeated an Eleni Daniilidou-less Greek team with 30-year old world #636 Amy Bowtell leading the way.

I'll have the complete weekly wrap-up later.

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

Like I said last week, the Italians don't cave when there's pressure; they thrive on it. During the second rubber, I began to imagine Flavia et al screaming and texting and jumping up and down--expending a whole lot of energy while not on the court (or even in Cleveland).

I love to watch Giorgi--I hope she stays healthy and has a great career. I started following her progress a few years ago when she showed up, out of nowhere, in Charleston, and played really well. She was also just delightful.

Poor Alison Riske, sitting on the bench watching the proceedings. Surely she'll be on the court tomorrow.

Sat Feb 08, 08:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Sometimes you get the feeling that MJF goes into FC ties with a built-in excuse for losing when she doesn't have the Williamses (or, now, Stephens... though Venus had to bail out the team last year when Sloane faltered when she played) on the roster. It's sort of like, since no one expects as much, making good decisions as far as picking who to play when isn't something that she should be expected to do. Who to face the top Italian? The player with the "most experience." It's not always as easy as that.

For instance, would Fernandez have ever made a possibly-risky-but-ultimately-smart move like Mauresmo did, playing Razzano vs. Voegele instead of Cornet, or even going with an obviously less-than-100% Cornet rather than Mladenovic, who has "pressure" issues of her own in singles? Did MJF really think McHale, with the most FC experience or not, was going to handle the pressure of playing Knapp? I understand if she didn't want to put Keys in such a position as going first against the Italian #1, but how things played out she was probably in a more pressurized position being down 0-1... and she surely didn't handle it well.

Riske -- and even Davis, for that matter -- have shown more mettle in bigger matches than either of those two over the past year, but MJF didn't make the riskier, "gut" move to give either a try when it might have mattered. The result: down 0-2, and not looking particularly good doing it, either. Riske and/or Davis might have been part of a 0-2 hole, too, but it's easier to think they wouldn't have been as dragged down by the moment as the other two were.

But, again, I suspect she feels like she's "off the hook" when it comes to things like that without Serena around. Hmmm.

Sat Feb 08, 08:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

I feel the same way, and I also think that putting Lauren in wouldn't have been a bad idea; she's had a pretty good stretch lately. No Serena, no Venus, no BMS, who is a great competitor. Tough times for MJF, but I do think Alison is at least up to the task.

Having said that, I love the way the "lesser" Italians just stepped in and did the job. You have to beat them; they won't give it to you.

Sat Feb 08, 10:58:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

No Jamie Hampton or Varvara Lepchenko either. Not that Jamie is great under pressure, but BMS and Varvara are road warriors. And didn't Varvara have a great tie against the Italians last year?

Definitely wasn't good to put Madison in 0-1 down.

Diane - did you read Jon Wertheim's piece on Giorgi? Did that affect your view of her at all?

Sat Feb 08, 11:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

The way the article was written, I'm surprised that Giorgi's creditors weren't waiting for her in the stands to collect their repayments after she was named to the tie.

Sat Feb 08, 11:59:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

The Giorgi story, about which she has wisely refused to comment, centers around an obsessed, aggressive tennis father. (Yet another one.) And even though it does appear that Giorgi's father is not someone to be trusted, I also found reason to believe some of his side of the story. My gut feeling is that both men have issues with honesty and stability.

But I don't know. I do know this, though: If things are the way we think they might be, Giorgi's career will suffer. It's very hard for someone that young (or even older) to get free of the grip of a toxic or abusive parent. The list is long--Dokic, Pierce, Graf, Radwanska, Djokovic, Agassi, Tomic--there are a lot of them, including a few who have escaped publicity.

And yes, Lepchenko would have been a great addition to the USA FC team. Is she injured?

Sun Feb 09, 10:19:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm... wondering if Bencic should be MVP of SUI/FRA even if the French end up winning the deciding doubles.

Sun Feb 09, 12:36:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, maybe not, since Bencic did serve for the 1st set in the deciding doubles.

Another good move by Mauresmo, as saving Mladenovic for the doubles proved to be a stroke of genius.

Oh, and Lepchenko is in the Doha draw, so I guess she's all right. Of course, also in the draw: Kvitova, Safarova, Wozniacki, Stephens, the Serbs, Venus, the Italians, Mattek-Sands and a few of the Russians who didn't take the court during FC week. ;)

No Serena, though, as she's out of Doha and won't make the trip to Indian Wells while resting her back.

Sun Feb 09, 01:25:00 PM EST  
Blogger Diane said...

Stubbs really we t on a rant about Sloane. Perhaps a rant about "If the WTA doesn't care, why should the players?" would be in order.

Sun Feb 09, 05:52:00 PM EST  
Blogger Eric said...

Bencic is just posting good wins left and right.

Todd, what's the prediction for her?

Top 80 by the end of the season with a couple of SFs? since she can only play a few events...

Sun Feb 09, 06:16:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Sounds about right. I can't remember a player that young doing so well for quite a while. Oddly enough, maybe the last was Vaidisova in the post-Hingis era.

Mon Feb 10, 02:24:00 AM EST  

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