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.
I was so glad to be back on the court after my break. It was a very tough match but special to be part of this great Czech team. Thanks to all of you for your messages of support and for believing in me. It is an honour to have you as my fans #pojd #czechfedcupteam Photo credit: Ceska sportovni / Pavel Lebeda (sport-pics.cz)
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):
?? !!!!!!!!!!— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) April 18, 2015
**WORLD GROUP PLAYOFFS**
...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.
Dulgheru mocking Bouchard with a fake handshake to her team in an endless loop. pic.twitter.com/KKe7iRRYnP— Joe (@ProdigyRep) April 18, 2015
**WORLD GROUP II PLAYOFFS**
...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.
=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.
Bye Montenegro, I had fun! Stuttgart bound! pic.twitter.com/YH2jCHXW7Q— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) April 18, 2015
I'll have the complete wrap-up after the weekend.
All for now.