Saturday, April 16, 2016

FC II Day 1 Flash Update

Already, the second Fed Cup weekend of 2016 has delivered us some clutch performances, as well as at least one head-shaking double-whammy, a near-choke (twice, in fact), an honest-to-goodness WIN from a certain Slovak and an upset that could be the first step toward overturning Fed Cup history.

(And if that moment ultimately arrives on Sunday, then we can debate just how much the mere existence of the name "Czechia" had to do with it.)

The weekend of Fed Cup gut-checks began on Friday night/early Saturday morning (for most of us) is Brisbane. So that's where this Day 1 "flash update" will begin...

It's a surprise. But then it isn't.

The U.S. took a 2-0 Day 1 lead over the Aussies in the World Group Playoffs as a dominant Madison Keys dispatched a nervous Daria Gavrilova in her FC debut, and then veteran FCer Sam Stosur went down in flames in three sets to Christina McHale, who notched her first FC win since 2012. Kudos to McHale for holding steady in the match, but one gets the feeling that Captain Mary Joe Fernandez could have propped up a cardboard cut-out of Lauren Davis across the net from Stosur and it would have been a 50/50 proposition that she might STILL sail shots ten feet over her opponent's "head."

Apparently, "never underestimate the ability for bad things to follow in MJF's path" is trumped in Fed Cup play by "never assume that Aussies will play up to their ability on Australian soil." Hmmm, perhaps an INDOOR clay court wasn't the right way to go? Or maybe Australia should have just given up the "honor" of playing hosts.

"It's easy to look back and say good decision (to select McHale). You try to put forth the team on Day 1 that you think is going to match up best head-to-head with the surface, how they've been practicing, how they're feeling physically and you it all into account and you come up with it (the line-up)," said Fernandez. "I was really proud of how Christina played from the start to the finish and Madison started us off on a very positive note which helps. You still have to win the next one and it's not going to be easy. We're closer, but it's nowhere near the finish line yet."

MJF is correct, this tie isn't over yeet. But the Australian team seems dead set on losing this, so they'll probably achieve their goal.

Meanwhile, in the semifinals, some big things are happening. Maybe Fed Cup history-altering occurrences, in fact.

First, the defending champion Czechs got a match #1 gift from a nervous Timea Bacsinszky, who barely registered in a 6-2/6-0 loss to Barbora Strycova. Bacsinszky, 0-3 in FC singles in '16, left the court in tears.

It looked like the Maidens may sail through the weekend vs. the Bencic-less Swiss and next prepare to cement their FC legacy in the fall, but then Karolina Pliskova let her Czech (or is it now "Czechia?"... oh, I almost want them to lose this tie just for that) flag fly just a little TOO high, blowing a 6-3/4-2 lead vs. #129-ranked Viktorija Golubic, making her FC singles debut.

Golubic knotted the tie at 1-1 with a three-set win in which Pliskova committed 57 unforced errors.

In France, 1st Round star Caroline Garcia was "upset" by quickly-becoming-a-legend Dutch Kiki Bertens, who blasted the Pastry 6-4/6-2 to open the second semifinal to run her career FC mark to 14-1. But the French Kiki -- Mladenovic -- got things back to level with a 6-2/6-4 win over Richel Hogenkamp (who was "celebrating her birthday on Saturday). Hogenkamp, remember, pulled off February's tie-defining 4:00 upset of Svetlana Kuznetsova in Moscow on Day 1.

This tie may very well be decided by Day 2's Kiki vs. Kiki clash. So maybe we'll soon find out for sure if destiny arrived in Trelaze speaking French... well, unless, Amelie Mauresmo can teach it overnight, that is.

In Moscow, the much-anticipated Vika-vs.-Kasatkina Day 2 match looks like, as expected, it'll be the key match of the Russia/Belarus WG Playoff tie.

Daria Kasatkina took out Aliaksandra Sasnovich in three sets, but then Azarenka only allowed five games to Margarita Gasparyan in match #2 to knot things up a 1-1. Said Kasatkina about her opening match win, the first of the 18-year old's FC singles career, "It was important to make early breaks in the first and third sets. I told myself I cannot lose because I am playing at home!" Obviously, THIS Daria is most definitely NOT Australian.

Meanwhile, the reasons that bands rarely ever have much peace when they get back together years later were on full display in the Italy/Spain WG Playoff tie.

First, Sara Errani was a late scratch with a leg injury, pushing Francesca Schiavone into action against Garbine Muguruza in match #1. She held her own, getting the 1st set to a tie-break, but then was stung in the face by an insect and didn't win another game the rest of the day. Needing a big effort from Roberta Vinci to pull things back, the Italians got nothing of the kind. She went down in just sixty-three minutes in a 6-1/6-1 loss to Carla Suarez-Navarro. The Italians haven't slipped back into World Group II since 1998, but it's hard to imagine now that that won't be the case come 2017. The End does indeed look near. At the same time, the Spaniards could be kicking off the start of something great -- such as the course toward playing for a berth in the FC final a year from now.

In Romania, all sides of Simona Halep came to the forefront before a raucous crowd of Swarmette supporters. After Angelique Kerber easily down Irinia-Camelia Begu to put Germany up 1-0, Halep HAD to defeat Andrea Petkovic to keep the Romanian hopes alive. She won the 1st set 6-4, and led 3-1 in the 2nd. She served for the match soon afterward, but was broken in a two-DF service game. She got back into position to serve for the match again in the 3rd at 5-3, and went up 30/15, but was broken again.

But the chants of "Si-mo-na!" didn't go unanswered this time, as Halep broke Petko (the fifth straight break in the set) a game later to secure the victory in 2:49. Halep had 48 UE's in the match, while the German posted 54.

In her usual introspective form, Petko said, "It's such a fascinating, intriguing sport, tennis. Especially in those close matches, you can’t really pinpoint the difference in the end. Was it the net cord she had at 5-4? A couple of forehands I missed that went out by a couple of centimetres? Was it the crowd that can also make the difference? Or is it God and destiny?!"

Halep rolled her ankle during the match, and as with anything with her below the knee (and above the ears), it bears watching.

Consider the stage set for what could be a crazy Sunday.

The Bracelet lives!

With AnaIvo "retired" from Fed Cup, and Jelena Jankovic injured and absent yet again, Aleksandra Krunic assumed the #1 singles role for Serbia in the WG II Playoff vs. Belgium. Naturally, she won her opening match. The Serbian Good Luck Charm defeated Kirsten Flipkens 6-4/7-6(8), coming back from 4-1 in the 2nd, saving two set points, and avoiding squandering a 5-2 lead in the TB. Jovana Jaksic fell to Yanina Wickmayer 7-5/6-0 one match later, though, so the smallest Serb will have to carry the largest load on her shoulders once again on Sunday.

In Bratislava, Francoise Abanda (as is her FC pattern) put up a great fight, but ultimately fell vs. Dominika Cibulkova in three sets. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova then won her first match since her Day 1 Fed Cup match in February, defeating Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4/4-6/6-4. Of note, while this is only her third match win of '16, this is the first time AKS has actually won the opening set in any match this season. At 2-0 for Slovakia, this one seems over.

But not as over as the Ukraine/Argentina "tilt." Kateryna Bondarenko and Lesia Bondarenko allowed a combined total of seven games to Maria Irigoyen and Nadia Podoroska to give the Svitolina-less Ukraine squad a bulging 2-0 advantage.

In Poland, the oddest tie of them all is truly "live" heading into Day 2.

Without a Chan on the Taiwanese team, or a Radwanska or even Magda Linette on their own, the Poles found their backs pressed firmly against the wall after #353 Hsu Ching-wen defeated Paula Kania in straight sets (Kania defeated Hsu 1 & 2 in a $50K challenger in January). But a debuting Magdalena Frech, 18, saved Day 1 for Poland by leveling the tie with 4-6/6-0/6-2 win over Lee Ya-Hsuan. Taiwan is playing in a World Group tie for the first time since 2007, while Poland is trying to break a three-tie losing streak in FC competition since playing in the WG 1st Round in 2015.

And, finally...

The Promotion Playoffs in zone play have been completed. Austria (led by Tamira Paszek & Barbara Haas) advanced out of Europe/Africa II along with surprise Bosnia & Herzegovina, as Dea Herdzelas won the second singles and deciding doubles vs. the Caro-less Danes to emerge with a 2-1 victory.

As expected, The Philippines (w/ Katharina Lehnert, who didn't lose a set all week in pool play) won Asia/Oceania II; while Luxembourg (w/ Mandy Minella) and Norway (Melanie Stokkie & Ulrikke Eikeri) won promotion out of Europe/Africa III.

More on the entire Fed Cup weekend (& the WTA event in Bogota) in the regular space and time.

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

This weekend deserves the Chuck Howley moment-if you don't follow football-the only Super Bowl MVP from a losing team. Co-players of the week should be Bertens and Golubic, who played way over their heads only to be let down by their teammates.

Also big props for Belarus for having someone besides Azarenka win a match.

Sun Apr 17, 03:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Bertens is to Fed Cup what Pironkova is (or at least used to be) to Wimbledon. Come on, Kiki--make it translate!

Sun Apr 17, 07:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

She did at the French a couple of years ago, maybe she can do it again.

On the other hand, Timea is the Lisicki of the French Open. A twitter queen that feeds off of the crowd. It is great when she wins, but sometimes can't get out of her own head when she's losing. The only thing consistent about them is their inconsistency.

Sun Apr 17, 08:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

You read my mind. I always think of Howley's "moment" when I consider naming a "losing" player MVP. ;)

You wish the tremendous nerves shown by Mladenovic and Garcia in Fed Cup would carry over to the regular singles tour, too. Maybe one day...

(Of course, it helps to always have Amelie just a few feet away, doesn't it?) ;)

Mon Apr 18, 01:08:00 PM EDT  

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