Saturday, April 18, 2015

FC II Day 1 Update: Being "Mauresmo" Is More Difficult Than It Looks

Barbara Rittner, you're no Mauresmo. (Heck, even Amelie wasn't very "Mauresmo"-like on this Saturday.)

Still, a few days ago, the Germans sure LOOKED like winners.

But, on second thought...

Some Fed Cup notes from Day 1 of weekend action:

**WORLD GROUP 1st Round**
...the two semifinal ties on Saturday ultimately revolved around gambles by respective captains. Two didn't work out very well, while another did... barely.

In Ostrava, the French team was always going to be between a rock and a hard place against the host Czechs, seeking the chance to win a fourth FC title in five years. Throw in Alize Cornet's thigh injury last week in Katowice and Captain Amelie Mauresmo's choices were likely limited. Playing the same hand she did in February when the Pastries stormed back from 0-2 down in Italy, she put her trust in Kiki Mladenovic to put up a fight against Petra Kvitova in the second match of the day. As it turned out, though, it was the first match that REALLY mattered.

Czech Captain Petr Pala's decision to play FC vet Lucie Safarova over Karolina Pliskova against Caroline Garcia very nearly backfired. Garcia led 6-4/5-4 and held a five match points, but Safarova -- on a bit of a skid of late on tour after her blazing start to the season -- battled back to win a 7-1 tie-break and then took the 3rd set at 6-1. Kvitova then defeated Mladenovic 6-3/6-4, giving the Czechs fourteen straight live rubber match victories, to put the French down 2-0 in yet another tie.

It's doubtful even Amelie can find a way out of this predicament. Gee, that STILL sounds familiar.

In Sochi, the RUS/GER tie looked to be a hotly-contested battle for a berth in the final. Then Maria Sharapova pulled out and the edge seemed to shift to Germany, even with the presence of FC stalwart Svetlana Kuznetsova on the Hordette squad. But when the match-ups were released on Friday, German Captain Barbara Rittner had Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges playing singles rather than the two top-ranked team members Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber. If the latter two were tired and begged off, Rittner had little choice. Petko essentially said as much in Charleston, but she still made the trip to Russia. If Rittner's goal was to limit the participation of both players to no more than one match each it would seem to have been a better move to sneak one (Kerber) in on Saturday in order to give the team a better shot at getting out of Day 1 at no worse than 1-1. Still, the whole thing almost worked out for Rittner on Day 1. But then it didn't.

Kuznetsova took out Goerges 6-4/6-4 in match #1 to record her 27th career FC win, more than any other Russian. In the second match, Lisicki held a match point for a straight sets win over Anastasia Pavlychenkova, but lost in a contest that managed to check all the boxes in the inconsistent tennis existences of both women. In the 2:30 match, the Russian served for the 2nd set at 5-4, only to see Lisicki hold a MP two games later. Pavlyuchenkova led 4-0 and 5-1 in the 3rd, but failed to serve out the match in her first attempt. On her second try, she finally downed Lisicki on MP #3 to win 4-6/7-6(4)/6-3 to give the Russians a 2-0 advantage.

Petkovic read "War and Peace" in preparation for Fed Cup weekend.

Well, I hope Petko enjoyed the ending. It might be the only good one she has this week. It remains to be seen whether either Petkovic or Kerber will be called upon to play on Sunday, and if they do what version of them we would see. This could turn out to be a what-could-have-been sitaution.

Meanwhile, SOMEONE was watching (and probably breathing a little sigh of relief that she might not have to shoulder any blame for a loss):

...while the semifinals were filled with "boardroom" intrigue, well, so were the WG Playoffs.

In Flavia Pennetta's hometown of Brindisi, Italian Captain Corrado Barazzutti's decision (at least for Day 1) to hold back the veteran FC workhorse from singles play set the stage for Mary Joe Fernandez (who had to add Lauren Davis to the U.S. squad after Venus Williams pulled out) to possibly be trumped for the "Worst Fed Cup Decision" award for the first time in ages. So far, though, the jury is still out on this one.

Serena Williams, after a tight 1st set, did her job and downed Camila Giorgi 7-6(5)/6-2, then Sara Errani handled Davis 6-1/6-2 to knot the tie at 1-1. Errani is scheduled to be "sacrificed" vs. Serena on Sunday, making the second singles match a tie-saver where you'd have to think that the responsibility will be given to Pennetta over Giorgi. Otherwise, we'd have to come to the conclusion that MJF has been cloned "Orphan Black" style and installed as the acting Captain on multiple Fed Cup teams.

In 's-Hertogenbosch, the underrated Dutch team is hosting what looked to be a forminable Aussie squad led by Sam Stosur. But Stosur turned out to be a late weekend scratch, putting the pressure on Jarmila Gajdosova and Casey Dellacqua. Kiki Bertens downed Gajdosova 6-1/6-3 to give the Netherlands the lead, then Dellacqua saved the Australians' Vegemite jars by taking out Arantxa Rus 7-5/6-3 to avoid the 0-2 hole. Said Dellacqua, "Throughout the week I always practice in terms of thinking I'm going to play. After the warm-up Sam [Stosur] said she wasn't up to playing so I just had to go out there and get the win for Australia. I think my level was pretty consistent." If this tie can go to the doubles, the advantage might just tip to the Aussies with Dellacqua in play. Getting it there will be the trick.

In Zielona Gora (POL), the fanfare surrounding Martina Hingis' first FC singles action since 1998 for the Belinda Bencic-less Swiss team died down after she lost a tight 1st set to Aga Radwanska en route to a 6-4/6-0 final score. After that, it became about finding a way to win the tie. Timea Bacsinszky did her part, taking out Aga's sister Ula 6-2/6-1 to knot things at 1-1. The A-Rad/Timea Day 2 battle will be CRUCIAL. If Bacsinszky wins, the Swiss are probably locked in for the victory. If Radwandska does, we might see this come down to the doubles... with Hingis (if she's not too tired, as she might play singles AGAIN) suiting up for possibly a third time this weekend.

In Montreal, Genie Bouchard's return to Fed Cup action gave real hope to a Canadian squad facing off against a Simona Halep-less bunch of Swarmettes. Irina-Camelia Begu, who saved the Romanian team by taking up the slack left by a Halep loss vs. Spain in February, was supposed to be the leader. But she got trumped in Match #1 by 18-year old Francoise Abanda. In a 2:39 match, Abanda won a 2:39 battle by a 4-6/7-5/6-4 score, taking a tight 2nd set and never falling behind in the 3rd en route to grabbing her first career FC win. Begu got in just 49% of her 1st serves, though the match ended up with both players winning 107 points.

Ah, but Bouchard and Montreal do not mix very well. In the second match, showing just how wonderful it is to have a very deep bench, Alexandra Dulgheru faced off with Bouchard in the injury-plagued Romanian's first FC match since 2011. She took down the Top 10er in straight sets, as Bouchard committed 42 unforced errors in the match's twenty games. Dulgheru's 6-4/6-4 win -- she served things out in a final game that included three break points and four match points -- squandered the advantage Canada had gained with Abanda's win, and brings Romania right back into this tie.

Dulgheru even managed to poke at Bouchard's distaste for post-competition handshakes.

...for the most part, things are a bit more tidy in the WG II Playoffs.

In Novi Sad, with the Serbian Good Luck Charm in attendance, things went as expected for Serbia. The injured Jelena Jankovic (foot/Charleston) was held out of play, but that just meant that Aleksandra Krunic was called upon to do what she does best. In match #1, The Bracelet handled Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg 6-1/6-3, then Ana Ivanovic came in to sweep up Montserrat Gonzalez in a 6-2/6-0 win to give Serbia a more-than-commanding 2-0 lead.

In Bratislava, new WTA titlist Anna Schmiedlova once again assumed the lead role for the Slovak team. Helped a bit by the absence of dependable Swedish FC stalwart Johanna Larsson (a late scratch, joining Sofia Arvidsson on the sidelines), the older Schmiedlova (as younger sister Kristina, a late addition to the roster, watched) handled things quite well, defeating Rebecca Peterson 6-3/6-3 in match #1. Vet Daniela Hantuchova then took out Susanne Celik 2 & 0 and give SVK a bulging 2-0 lead as, for once, the Slovaks look to have their heads in the game. What's Swedish for "cooked goose?"

In Tokyo, things could still get interesting. Vika Azarenka handled Misaki Doi 6-2/6-1 to give Belarus the lead, but the hopes that Olga Govortsova could immediately get one of her possibly-necessary singles wins in her very first attempt of the weekend didn't work out. She pushed Kurumi Nara to three sets, but the Japanese woman won 6-4/4-6/6-2. This one might go down to the doubles, with the old junior duo of Vika & Olga in charge of trying to lifting Belarus to the win against a JPN team with some doubles skills to draw upon.

In Bueonos Aires, the Spanish "B"-team is proving quite a force. No Muguruza, CSN or even Torro-Flor hasn't slowed down Spain. Teenager Sara Sorribes Tormo made her FC debut by outlasting Argentine vet Paula Ormaechea (who has her share of dramatic wins for ARG, and will need at least one more to win this home tie) 4-6/7-6(2)/6-1, twice overcoming a break disadvantage in the 2nd set. Lara Arruabarrena then -- a little shockingly, score-wise -- destroyed Maria Irigoyen 6-0/6-1 to give ESP a 2-0 lead. Irigoyen put up much more of a fight against Venus Williams in a live rubber vs. the U.S. in February. The chances and players are still there for Argentina to stage a comeback, but it's going to be tough.

**Zone Play**
=ASIA/OCEANIA II at Hyderabad, India=
The A/O II zone always seemed as if it would come down to a Promotional Playoff battle between host India and the Philippines, and that's just what happened. Looking for the one promotion spot, the IND/PHI face-off came down to the deciding doubles match after Katharina Lehnert tied things up with a singles win over India's Ankita Raina.

With the tie on the line, Captain Sania Mirza (hot off her #1 doubles ranking) finally took to the court for the first time this week, teaming with Prarthana Thombare to defeat Lehnert and Anna Clarice Patrimonio in straight sets to secure the win. Mirza is currently riding a 15-match doubles win streak.

=EUROPE/AFRICA III at Ulcinj, Montenegro=
...two teams were be promoted out of this zone, and it was a teenager and a veteran that made the difference.

18-year old Akvile Parasinskaite powered Lithuania's advancement, going undefeated for the week by winning both her singles and doubles (with vet Lina Stanciute, 29) matches on Sunday to key a 2-1 victory over Moldova. Parazinskaite, a Bronze medalist in both singles and doubles at last year's Youth Olympic Games, notched three of her four career FC singles wins this week.

In the other Promotional Playoff, Karen Barbat gave the Danes an insurmountable lead over the Greeks with a hard-fought 7-5/3-6/7-6(4) first match win over Despina Papamichail. Oh, yeah -- and Caroline Wozniacki threw in a win, as well. Ha! THE Dane defeated Maria Sakkari 6-3/6-0 to secure Denmark's advancement, going 3-0 for the week. Caro has won her last ten FC singles matches back to 2008.

And then -- poof -- she was gone.

I'll have the complete wrap-up after the weekend.

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

"Otherwise, we'd have to come to the conclusion that MJF has been cloned "Orphan Black" style and installed as the acting Captain on multiple Fed Cup teams."

Oh that has such a sense of Radwanskian trickery in it! Hilarious.

Red clay at Fed Cup in her hometown has to be one situation in which Flavia would want to take another shot at you-know-who. They tend to have better matches than the scorelines show, and this is Fed Cup, and you never know. So far, no changes have been listed.

Sat Apr 18, 10:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Flavia would surely seem to have a better shot than Errani vs. Serena.

If it comes to it, I wonder who might REALLY play a deciding doubles match? On both sides, really. Would Serena go a third time? Errani? It might have been wise for you-know-who (Three Initials Edition) to actually included an accomplished doubles player on the roster... but why prepare for every possibility or anything?

Sat Apr 18, 11:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I forget who it was--LD or some other Tennis Channel nonsense-talking head--but one of them said only yesterday (referring to some European contest) how you have to have accomplished doubles players on your team. You think?!

If it comes to doubles, it would just about have to be Pennetta/Errani vs. Serena/Somebody if they can at least stand up. BMS, Abby, Raquel--in fact, Sloane is a really good doubles player. Nowhere to be seen.

Sat Apr 18, 11:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

So vika and Serena drafted to play all matches to get a head way.

Errani almost got a chance.

Why didn't the German team our petko and Kerber on the first day? Now they run the risk of losing in the doubles decider.

Hingis lost both singles, almost won against the younger sister but running out of steam I guess. So down to doubles again!

Sun Apr 19, 10:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

And aga aga aga. Just like genie....slumping

Sun Apr 19, 10:30:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Errani/Pennetta d. Williams/ Riske 6-0/6-3

Draw-a-Mustache-on-Mary-Joe party tonight at Backspin HQ!

(BYOM - bring your own markers)

Sun Apr 19, 11:22:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

From the Fed Cup site:

"What pressure Riske must have felt. The 24-year-old had never met Williams prior to the series, and here she was playing with one of the best players of all time in a crunch encounter."

So, your team for the deciding doubles had NEVER MET prior to this week? Yep, MJF is an expert roster-builder.

Sun Apr 19, 01:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

So Venus, Sloane, and Madison can't play. Coco is susceptible to mental collapse. Jamie Hampton is injured.

Why wouldn't they have asked Taylor Townsend...who is good at doubles...has good chemistry with Serena...proven clay court player (3R FO '14)...

Or ANYONE?!?! Like Diane said....BMS, Spears/Raquel are good double players. Heck, even pulling Liezel Huber or Lisa Raymond out of retirement would have made more sense.

MJF COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO PLAY DOUBLES WOULD HAVE MADE MORE SENSE. Pam Shriver and LD could have put aside the mic and grabbed a racquet and they would have won at least a game in the love set.

Sun Apr 19, 06:32:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I don't understand.

Also Rittner. Boo.

Sun Apr 19, 06:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Also...I'm not following Genie's handshake issue...

But maybe it's a cultural thing... Roanic got in hot water either last year or the year before for not conceding a point or something. Maybe Canadians are more cut throat than their cultural identity suggests.

Zidane should weigh in.

I say this in jest of course.

From the video of Genie refusing to shake doesn't seem like she has ill will...she just would rather not.

Oh...I just read her comments about being fake and lame...yeah...not looking good Genie...

Sun Apr 19, 06:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Why didn't Sam Stosur play the tie?

Sun Apr 19, 06:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

She pullef out of Charleston with that back injury, so probably that.

Sun Apr 19, 07:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Todd, I just bought five sets of markers for our party.

Seriously, they should ask Martina Nav to be the coach and boot MJF.

Sun Apr 19, 07:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Eric, I used to like genie when she came out in 2013. Particularly USO she really impressed me with her third round loss to Kerber I think. Quietly shining. Since all the media spots on her, the more she talks the more arrogant she becomes. Genuine or not, she is not in position to say it. Not any elite players would. Young but not that young.

Sun Apr 19, 09:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Bouchard's handshaking issue is not new. She did the same last year. It's only that it looks worse when she then cannot pull herself on court.

I think fans have a lot of difficulties trying to understand what is going on with Bouchard, and the best we can do is conjecture, and conjectures are always susceptible to controversy.

My conjecture is psychological. Bouchard's upbringing has mostly been pampered. She probably had tough moments in her life, like anybody, but having tough moments and having to struggle are not the same thing. Her parents oversaw her tennis training during all her teenage years. They literally moved the family to Florida for her to get the best professional support to learn tennis. They set up a fund to finance her tennis development. Bouchard never had to worry about such things, and always had the opportunity to focus on tennis. Even now, her mom is still up there, overseeing her off-court activities. All of this was enough to overcome whatever she had to overcome until recently and make big splashes under an irregular spotlight.

Now, she has to make decisions that no one else can take for her. Now she has to handle issues that no one else can handle except her, and for which she has little life experience to rely on, such as stress, expectations, better players on the opposite side of the court, players against whom she doesn't know what to do, etc. She is not, life-wise, well equipped to face that.

Elite tennis has always been an upper-class sport. It's noticeable just by checking from what nationalities come the players from the top 100, men and women. But having had to face adversity in one's life is often what differentiates the best from the rest, because at the end of the day, tennis is all in one's mind. For some players, it happens before they reach the pros (the Williams sisters are a good case; Henin's family story is an obvious case). For other players, it happens during their careers (Clijsters' injuries, for instance). Some players never get to it (until proven wrong, I put Wozniacki in that box).

We'll have to see how Bouchard handles this, and in which category she resides. Right now, it's ugly, but it's way too early to have a jury verdict.

Hey, at least Abanda had a great week-end!

Oh, Eric, to stay in controversial discussions - Canadians (English) have little cultural identities except in contrast with other cultures. This is why they are so intense in raising their national symbols: to cover up for cultural insecurities about their identities. (And Bouchard, despite her family name, is more English than French - she is named, after all, after an British princess.)

To make a long story short: English Canadians did not consider themselves "Canadians" until at the earliest the Second World War. If you ever read the word "Canadian" used in a context prior to this time, it means "French Canadian" (think of the hockey team the Montréal Canadiens: the team's name literally meant that it would be the French hockey team in Montréal, in opposition to the Maroons, the then English hockey team in Montréal). Same with the Oh Canada. (Oh irony!) 70-80 years is not long enough to build a distinctive cultural identity with such a long British heritage, with such an omnipresent neighbour like the United States and with so little distinctive historical events to mark differences. So, yeah, "nicer than Americans" describes how Canadians view themselves. "Nice", in the absolute? I doubt it, and certainly less and less with the current Prime Minister nourrishing people's fears to advance his own agenda.

Sun Apr 19, 09:21:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Well said, Zidane, though I also always leave open the possibility of unknown, sometimes horrendous, stressors that exist as much in
"privileged" families as in other families. Not referring to GB, specifically here, just any family of so-called privilege. Stress is stress, and it arrests development.

I think Bouchard is wound pretty tight, perhaps because she does lack self-soothing skills, perhaps not. I can't recall a faster meltdown since Capriati's.

Sun Apr 19, 09:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Zidane - thanks for giving us a Canadian history lesson! :) Definitely food for thought. Now I have to read more about the Prime Minister to see what you're referring to.

Diane - I read your post on WWS about Genie and how it's ok to believe something against the grain. I liked that post too -- very educational. Genie's personality really is very interesting... As you mentioned...she is verbally very aggressive, but can have tender moments. I suppose that's just the layered nature of being a human being. She's still learning.

I do have to say I got into hot water when I was in high school at a swim meet. I didn't want to shake my opponents hand bc I had a (stupid) superstition that my opponent would absorb my energy from my hand shake and then I would lose. I remember I did this all the way until I was 16 or 17...and then my teammates forced me shake hands since I was giving the team a bad rep. Once they disproved my theory (of energy absorption), I was fine. :) The weird thoughts of young people.

Not sure about Genie's friend status...but I think it's interesting that she went from being BFFs w/ Robson to have no public contact with her.

Sun Apr 19, 09:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Thanks, Eric :) I like YOUR handshake story!

Sun Apr 19, 10:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Diane - yes, of course. That's why I specifically drew a line between "tough times" vs. "struggle/adversity". The latter suggests that the person had to deal with it.

Life difficulties are difficulties no matter the income and other means at one's disposal to deal with them. Same for their psychological effects.

Sun Apr 19, 10:25:00 PM EDT  

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