Monday, April 23, 2018

Wk.16- Don't Look Back, the Czechs May Be Gaining on You Again

Menacing Maidens, bullish Bannerettes, thundering Latvians, and a bunch of Canadians who barely made it through the weekend in one piece.

All that and more in this week's recap of a whole new batch of sometimes-crazy, definitely-Czechy, Fed Cup results:

1. The Czech Charm Offensive (don't let the smiles fool you -- if you turn your back on them for a second they'll shank you in- too late, it's over)

2. Any Canadian Player Still Walking Around on Her Own Two Feet after Montreal
3. Lat-vi-a!
4. Si-mo-na!
5. Ash "Whack-a-Mole" Barty
6. In Rinaldi We Trust: Year 2, Chapter 2 - "Buckle up, the next ride might get bumpy."

7. Belgian Rumble
8. Japanese teamwork: all for one, and one for all (again)
9. Viktoria Kuzmova: The Future (is now) of Slovakian Fed Cup tennis
10. AMG and a Full Cupboard of Spaniards
11. The Gavrilovian Redemption Plan (when sentimental expectations have unintended consequences, but it's all good, after all)

12. Maria Sakkari
13. A Pojding! Petra


1. Meet the New Hordette Boss... not that different from the old Hordette Boss, actually
2. Changing Fortunes (only partially made up for by creative team photo-taking)

3. Italian Fed Cup: All Good Things...
4. Crazy Aussie Captain decisions... unless it was actually "crazy genius?" (Nah.)
5. Great Britain: The 25 26-year wait
6. Sam, Sam, Sam
7. 3/5 of a Pressure-Loving Kiki (and now one less rock star)

8. Angie, Angie, Angie
9. The realization that it's not always about the shoes


From the start, did Sasnovich and the Belarusians know something we didn't?

Captain Petr Pala (CZE) = "We're fine with being called underdogs. Just. Fine."
Captain Kathy Rinaldi (USA) = "In (Me) -- and Sloane and Madison and CoCo and... -- I Trust. But I might need a little something extra in the fall."
Captain Florin Segarceanu (ROU) = "We're back, baby. Now, hopefully, they won't bring back Ilie."
Captain Andis Juska (LAT) = "Can you hear the Thunder?"
Captain Toshihisa Tsuchihashi (JPN) = "Let me repeat... team, team, team, team."
Captain Matej Liptak (SVK) = "I think everyone will know Viktoria Kuzmova's name very soon."
Captain Tatiana Poutchek (BLR) = "Not exactly the way I planned it, but do we have depth or do we have depth? (With or without Vika.)"
Captain Anabel Medina-Garrigues (ESP) = "The best way to avoid a negative 'Spaniard Whisperer' rating? Have a roster top heavy enough to NOT have to play Lara Arruabarrena, of course."
Captain Ivo Van Aken (BEL) = "Hey, I'm only keeping the chair warm for one weekend... so I guess that means I'm retiring undefeated without losing even one match."
Captain Anastasios Bavelas (GRE) = "We're better than you think. Just gimme ONE more decent player."
Captain Dimitar Labudovik (TUN) = "Jabeur & Bechri may be the most effective young FC combo nobody knows."
Captain Jens-Anker Andersen (DEN) = "Hey Caro, I've got someone I'd like you to meet. Her name's Clara."
Captain Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) = "What the heck just happened?"
Captain Mikhail Filima (UKR) = "What the heck just happened?"
Captain Rene Plant (RSA) = "Granted, it's not like the old days, but it's *something*, right?"
Captain Helen Asciak (MLT) = "Not bad, huh? And we didn't even have Helene Pellicano."
Captain Ramon Delgado (PAR) = "You hate to waste an opportunity after you escaped the Haddad Maia web in zone play."
Captain Paul Haarhuis (NED) = "All right, are we ready to get serious again in 2019? Hello? Kiki?"
Captain Jans Gerlach (GER) = "So, I guess we turned into pumpkins this time."
Captain Tzipora Hirsh-Obziler (ISR) = "More Glushkos, please."
Captain Edita Liachoviciute (LTU) = "They can't all be former Clemson Tigers like Joana Eidukonyte."
Captain Anne Kremer (LUX) = "How old is your daughter now, Mandy? Can she hold a racket yet?"
Captain Anne Keothavong (GBR) = "But Mary Joe told me it was smart to sub out a doubles duo for singles players who just got finished playing a match."
Captain Heinz Gunthardt (SUI) = "Well, it was good while it lasted. When it comes to being a legit FC contender... you snooze, you lose, I suppose."
Captain Yannick Noah (FRA) = "If I only knew how to whisper. But I don't, so I'm out. I know someone who has the skill, though, if anyone's interested."
Captain Tathiana Garbin (ITA) = "Presiding over the smoldering ashes."
Captain Igor Andreev (RUS) = "Hey, don't blame me. I just got here. Someone get me Dasha!"
Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) = "Hey, it worked out just like I planned it all along. (That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)

*WEEK 16*

United States def. France (H) 3-2
Czech Republic def. Germany (H) 4-1
=World Group Playoffs=
Belarus (H) def. Slovakia 3-2
Romania (H) def. Switzerland 3-1
Australia (H) def. Netherlands 4-1
Belgium def. Italy (H) 4-0
=World Group II Playoffs=
Latvia def. Russia (H) 3-2
Japan (H) def. Great Britain 3-2
Canada (H) def. Ukraine 3-2
Spain (H) def. Paraguay 3-1
=Zone Promotion Finals=
[Europe/Africa II]: Greece* def. Luxembourg 2-1
[Europe/Africa II]: Denmark def. Israel 2-1
[Europe/Africa III]: South Africa def. Malta 2-1
[Europe/Africa III]: Tunisia* def. Lithuania 2-1
*-host nations


United States def. France 3-2
[Aix-en-Provence, FRA / RCI]
..."In Rinaldi We Trust" is a brand that still fits. At least for a few more months. Kathy Rinaldi, after an initially shaky start from Sloane Stephens, pulled all the right strings in Provence (including the through-the-eye-of-the-needle move of going with Madison Keys in Match #4 over CoCo Vandeweghe, preserving her for a possible meaningful doubles match rather than going the roll-the-dice route of former captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who likely would have stuck with original choice Vandeweghe, potentially putting in jeopardy the team's best doubles combo should CoCo be upset). Hmm, I guess that's why you give yourself singles *and* doubles options when putting together roster, huh? The win maintains Rinaldi's spotless (5-0) record as the U.S. captain, extending the Bannerettes' streak to seven straight victories as the defending FC champs reach back to back finals for the first time since 2009-10. The last consecutive U.S. titles came in 1999 and 2000. What will be Rinaldi's roster strategy for a November final on the road against a deep opponent whose best surfaces are the same as that of the majority of the potential Bannerette participants? Well, on Sunday she said, "The final is not until November so we will pick a team for that when the time comes." In other words, if a Williams or two are ready, willing and able, it'd make things a whole lot easier on me."

Sloane Stephens/USA
...last fall, Stephens was still living in the smoky haze of her winless post-U.S. Open title stretch, and her sometimes-ghostly 0-2 performance nearly singlehandedly took down a year's worth of work by her recovering-from-the-MJF-era teammates. In her first clay match in two years, when she fell down 5-2 in Match #1 against Pauline Parmentier, the very player against whom she'd finally ended her months-long, eight-match losing streak a short while ago, it looked like THAT Sloane had shown up again. She staved off five SP in the 1st, won a 7-3 TB, then recovered from being a break down seven games into the 2nd. But Future Sloane finally arrived, then morphed into Intergalactic Sloane on Sunday in a singularly devastating, 6-1/6-0, mercy killing of Pastry #1 Kiki Mladenovic.

Madison Keys/USA
...Keys has had some good clay results in the past, but has never been shy about how much she looks forward to the seasons that come *after* the dirt. So her role in this tie was always a wait-and-see decision for Rinaldi to make. As it turned, thanks to the re-emergence of Future Sloane to give her a little flexibility, the captain tapped Keys for the clinching fourth singles match vs. Pauline Parmentier. Things didn't start well, as the Pastry led 4-1 in the 1st, and made things tight in the 2nd. But Keys prevailed in straights to secure the win.

Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
...for a player who likes to talk about how immune she is to the sort of pressure that comes with Fed Cup ties at home, Mladenovic sure looked like a player succumbing to it in three of the five singles sets she played this weekend. Though she was working with far less (pressure *and* potential), Pauline Parmentier gave pretty much everything she had to give in her two matches, both of which included blown leads vs. Sloane Stephens (5-2 in the 1st and w/ 5 SP, then a break up at 4-3 in the 2nd) and Madison Keys (up 4-1 in the 1st) in a pair of straight sets losses. But the weight of France's fate, just as it was in February, was squarely on Kiki's shoulders, not those of her fellow LOLer. After a bad 1st set vs. CoCo Vandeweghe on Saturday, she was her imperious self in wrapping up a three-set win to end the Bannerette's 13-match FC winning streak. Versus Stephens on Sunday, in what turned out to be the key match, she was obliterated, winning just one game in fifty-four minutes. For all her bluster, Mladenovic is just 9-7 in her FC singles career, and former teammate Caroline Garcia was the driving force and on-court heart of Amelie Mauresmo's wonderfully synchronized squads of a few years ago.
Match #2 - Sloane Stephens/USA def. Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
First Future Sloane appears on the hard courts of the U.S., and now it's the clay courts of France. Hmmm. Of course, I'm talking about Miami and Provence. But could that be a reference to New York and Paris a few months from now?

Czech Republic def. Germany 4-1
[Stuttgart, GER / RCI]
...playing on the road, against an "A"-level team, on the squad's "worst" surface, seemed to have the potential to be the kryptonite for the super run of the Czechs. But the Maidens don't do "vulnerable." Instead, they simply laughed in the face of "blasphemous," reaching-for-the-stars predictions of their demise, chuckled at the inadvertent slights, and went out and put on one of their most electrifying weekend performances in the Fed Cup dynasty that stretches back to 2011. While they've hardly ever lost during the stretch, multiple championship runs have included edge-of-your-seat ties that went to the doubles, including all three ties in their last title season in 2016. That wasn't the case here, though. In a sense, the Czechs, save for one match, embarrassed the Germans, with Petra Kvitova ripping through the two Top 12 players on the squad, surrendering just nine total games to lead the Maidens into a sixth FC final in eight years.

Petra Kvitova/CZE never truly knows which version of Petra you're going to get, but save for a brief four-match slump in 2015-16, Kvitova has been the rock upon which the Czech dynasty has built its foundation. With the Maidens having not lost with an "A"-team roster since the 2013 semis, Kvitova took it upon herself to eradicate the week-long whispers that their string of good fortune may finally reach its end in Stuttgart. Her 3 & 2 crushing of Julia Goerges (she'd been 4-1 vs. the German, but they'd often battled for three sets before Petra prevailed) set the tone for this tie like no other single FC match this weekend, sucking any air of anticipation from the building, and leaving Angelique Kerber to be suffocated by teammate Karolina Pliskova in Match #2. Kvitova's own thrashing of the two-time slam champ, though a bit more overwhelming than expected, was simply the case of the final piece of the puzzle being put into place.

Karolina Pliskova/CZE
...Pliskova, be it as the lead Maiden or as a trusty #2, has never been a part of a losing Czech Fed Cup tie. With the possibility of Kvitova going SuperPetra always present, it was Karolina who needed to hold her own if the team wasn't going to have to take their chances in the sort of deciding doubles match that has highlighted the nation's depth-filled, dynastic FC run. With Kvitova having stolen the heart of Goerges and the German crowd in Match #1, Pliskova seized her moment of opportunity and knocked off Angelique Kerber before the hosts could regain their collective footing. The 2-0 lead pretty much sealed the fate of both squads. With a night to recover, Goerges blitzed the Czech on Sunday in straight sets, but by then it was too late. Kvitova put away Kerber a match later, and a tie that seemed set to be an uphill battle for the Maidens turned into a downhill-all-the-way romp on foreign soil.

Good saturday ???? #FedCup

A post shared by Karolina Pliskova (@karolinapliskova) on

Angelique Kerber/GER
...Kerber, having rebounded from her frightful '17 season, seemed well-equipped to lead the German team back to a second FC final in five years. A win over Petra Kvitova, even on her least amenable surface, was always going to be a battle. That it devolved into a 2 & 2, tie-clinching beating at the hands of the Czech only gave the former #1's weekend a few more bruises. A win over the Maidens was likely going to involve a deciding doubles match, and for that to happen Kerber had needed to notch a Day 1 win over Karolina Pliskova. She was 7-3 in her career vs. the Czech sister, including 5-1 in the last six meetings (though their one previous clay match had gone Pliskova's way four years ago), and Pliskova's '18 season had seen her play well, but hardly great, over the course of the first three and a half months. Clay wasn't expected to be the surface on which her serve would become a true weapon again, as it was during her '16 campaign, when the two met in the U.S. Open final. But it was, and that Pliskova handled Kerber 5 & 3 in Match #2 sent the German team wandering along on a pathless journey in Stuttgart, down 2-0 with little hope of finding their way back home. They found themselves a match from elimination without having yet won their first set of the weekend. Goerges' 4 & 2 win over Pliskova to open Sunday play only served to make Kerber's Day 1 loss even more damaging. An upset just wasn't in the cards... err, the Czechs.
Match #4 - Petra Kvitova/CZE def. Angelique Kerber/GER
Kerber will soon get another shot at Kvitova on home dirt, as they're set to face off in the 1st Round of the tour-level event in Stuttgart this week.


Belarus def. Slovakia 3-2
[Minsk, BLR / HCI]
...the Belarusians were the Fed Cup Cinderella darlings of 2017, but they fell flat in February against a "B"-team of Germans. Their return to Minsk was supposed to be their moment to rebound and retain their spot in the '19 World Group... but 19-year old Viktoria Kuzmova totally stole the spotlight. Oh, yes, in the end, Belarus did manage to scrape by with a deciding doubles win to secure their continued contention for a maiden FC crown. But Kuzmova's singles sweep of the top two Belarusian stars who carried the team to last year's final made HER the story of the tie. A third win in doubles, which would have made Kuzmova the only player in World Group play this weekend to have a hand in all three live match wins, would have made her a FC legend just two months after she made her maiden win the clinching victory over the Russians. So legendary status will have to wait. Give her time, though, she's already almost there.

Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK
...the 19-year old pulled a "Miss Vanjie" in Minsk. She didn't win in the end, but what she did is what everyone will remember. (And if you got *that* reference, congrats!)

The future of SVK Fed Cup tennis, Kuzmova loaded up the team on her back and very nearly carried the group to a road victory of epic proportions. So much so that, even with the loss, she's more than worthy of garnering the "MVP" for the tie. After Bogota champ AKS was a late scratch in Match #1, and Jana Cepelova fell in two tight sets to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Kuzmova had the unenviable task of *having* to defeat Aryna Sabalenka to keep Slovak hopes alive. She won the battle of 19-year olds, taking a 3rd set TB, then cleaned up another bit of Schmiedy untidiness (a straights less loss to Sabalenka in Match #3 that put SVK on the brink of defeat) by taking down Sasnovich in straights to force a fifth match. She didn't complete her dream weekend with a deciding doubles win, falling with AKS to Lapko/Marozava. But the Slovak team has found its NextGen star. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
Vera Lapko/Lidziya Marozava, BLR
...while Kuzmova got the most attention, it was the deciding doubles win by these two Belarusians that actually won the tie. With both Kuzmova and Schmiedlova having played singles matches on Sunday, the BLR duo were rested and supported by the partisan crowd. They took the match 6-3/6-4. Not that anyone will be recalling *that* result too much down the road... well, unless their name is Vera or Lidziya (or maybe Viktoria, I guess).


Match #2 - Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK def. Aryna Sabalenka/BLR 6-2/2-6/7-6(5)
Match #4 - Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK def. Aliaksandra Sasnovich/BLR 6-1/7-6(3)
and here it seemed as if Kuzmova's big win to clinch Slovakia's first ever win over Russia back in February was going to be her Fed Cup season highlight. Even with the doubles loss, this double-barreled blast might actually have left that one in the dust in short order.


Romania def. Switzerland 4-1
[Cluj-Napoca, ROU / RCI]
...a few years ago, the Romanians looked to have the depth to challenge for a Fed Cup title. A near-miss loss to the Czechs sent the Swarmettes tumbling back down the ladder. But after making quick work of the Swiss, semifinalists the last two years but now looking to have quickly become *former* FC title contenders, Romania is back in the game. Naturally, they need a leader to undertake this mission. Thankfully, they've got the #1 player in the world.

Simona Halep/ROU
...playing in her first tie as the world #1, Halep admitted to being nervous about the additional pressure heaped upon her shoulders. In her '18 clay court debut, she stuttered slightly against Viktorija Golubic in the opening match, but righted the ship to win 6-3/1-6/6-1 and put to rest the thoughts of a sudden Cinderella story playing out in Cluj-Napoca. Her 2-0 weekend record improved her career FC singles mark to 16-5, and next year she'll lead Romania back into the World Group after a two year absence. Si-mo-na.

Patty Schnyder/SUI
...perhaps the darkening plight of the Swiss team is best represented by the fact that Heinz Gunthardt's mid-week choice to fill the vacant #4 spot on the roster was none other than Schnyder, who hasn't played FC in seven years. At 39, she's actually two years older than the now retired (again) Martina Hingis, who had been prepared to be the vet/HoF closer for the Swiss FC "Dream Team" the last two years, though it was a scenario that was never quite able to play out. Schnyder even got onto the court in a live match, as Halep's 2 & 1 win clinched the victory for Romania.

Match #1 - Simona Halep/ROU def. Viktorija Golubic/SUI
If Simona had lost, who knows? The Golubic Zone is, as always, just one big upset away. But a quick peek over The Cliffs was all Halep needed to rediscover the straight and narrow path home. Now the Swarmettes are back with another chance to make a run at a Fed Cup title in 2019.


Australia def. Netherlands 4-1
[Wollongong, AUS / HCI]
...Australia came into this tie as the overwhelming favorite at home against a Dutch roster with a total of ZERO Fed Cup singles wins, with two players making their FC debuts. For a moment, all the old bugaboos about the Aussies playing on Australian soil poked their ugly heads out of the dirt. But then Ash Barty Whack-a-Moled them back down into the earth.

Ash Barty/AUS February, Barty took over the lead role on the Aussie FC team. She had a hand in all three points in a 3-2 win over a Ukrainian team playing without either Elina Svitolina or Lesia Tsurenko. After Sam Stosur's stunning opening match loss to #210 Lesley Kerkhove, Barty proceeded to lock things down. While Stosur had lost 7-5/7-6(1) to give the Dutch an unexpected advantage, Barty permitted just eight games COMBINED in her matches against Quirine Lemoine, and then Kerkhove to open play on Sunday, notching her seventh and eighth straight Fed Cup wins. She's now 11-2 (6-1/5-1) in her FC career, and will get the chance to try to continue her run in 2019's World Group.

Lesley Kerkhove/NED
...26-year old Kerkhove, even while ranked outside the top 200, came in as the highest ranked member of the Dutch team, which two years ago at this time was playing for a spot in the final. Though 3-0 in doubles play, she'd never even contested a singles match in FC competition until this weekend. So, naturally, against a player who'd played in forty-six FC singles contests, she took down former U.S. Open champ Sam Stosur in straight sets in the opening match, outpacing the Aussie 21-10 in winners. Things didn't go so well on Sunday, for Kerkhove or the rest of the team... but, hey, she'll always have Wollongong.

Dasha Gavrilova/AUS
...ever the team player, Dasha handled her stunning -- but not *totally* shocking, considering her own up-and-down Fed Cup history -- "demotion" by Captain Alicia Molik with typically odd-ish behavior, dancing during the team photo as a call back to the synchronized swimmers who took part in the ceremony.

But, as it turned out, the wheel spun back around in her favor. After Stosur slipped on a banana peel in match #1, Molik installed Gavrilova as *her* replacement for Day 2. Once Barty completed her personal singles sweep of the Dutch team, Dasha took down Quirine Lemoine 3 & 2 to clinch the win. She even got the chance to perform a one-person victory lap with the Aussie flag. If Stosur doesn't lose, that likely doesn't happen. All's well that ends well, I guess.

Ultimately, in the dead doubles rubber, Gavrilova teamed with Destanee Aiava as the 17-year recorded her first career FC win, and Kerkhove & Demi Schuurs (they'd combined to get a win over Venus & Serena in February's meaningless doubles match vs. the U.S.) both lost for the first time in Fed Cup doubles.
Samantha Stosur/AUS and Captain Alicia Molik/AUS??????
...all right, let the debate begin about whether Molik is a crazy genius, or just crazy.

Really, though, what was she thinking? Perhaps there was a method to the Aussie Captain's lineup madness, or maybe it was just misplaced sentimentality. Either way, her comments when she stunned everyone by announcing that Stosur would be scheduled in the #2 singles spot behind Barty in this tie, not the higher-ranked Gavrilova, sort of remove any questions about whether it was some sort of bold, "genius" stroke designed to stoke the fires and confidence of Dasha. Molik originally said of her decision, "Coming into this tie I think experience is going to be really important. Sam has it. Bottom line. She’s been out there so many times, she’s had a lot of success, knows what it feels like.

Well, that didn't work out so well, now did it? Rather than coast to an historic FC career moment, Stosur suffered one of her more perplexing upsets, falling to #210 Lesley Kerkhove in straight sets to briefly give life to the notion of a Cinderella weekend for the overmatched Dutch squad.

Stosur, whose participation made her the fifth Aussie woman to play in thirty career FC ties, had needed just one win to get within one of Wendy Turnbull's all-time Aussie Fed Cup record for overall victories. Surely, Molik figured her old friend couldn't mess *this* one up on Aussie soil. Well, she should have known that no win is ever a given Down Under where Stosur is concerned... it's just not in her tennis DNA. Alicia should make a mental note for '19, when the Aussies will be playing in the World Group once again. More mistakes like this one will get her fitted for the now-faceless Backspin Fed Cup Mustache (formerly worn by Mary Joe Fernandez, and just narrowly avoided by Anastasia Myskina, who was fired by the Russian Federation before her first official fitting at Backspin HQ).

Now, as it turned out, Molik's better-late-than-never move to replace Stosur with Gavrilova in match #4 on Sunday gave Dasha, who'd had an awful 0-2 FC weekend in February when she lost to 16-year old Marta Kostyuk and Nadia Kichenok (slip-ups that Molik noted when leaving Gavrilova out of the original rotation), an opportunity at redemption that she grabbed with both hands.

Sometimes Fed Cup captains make heartfelt, gut decisions and players let them down. Other times they make horrible ones and luck falls gently into their laps. Molik experienced a bit of both this weekend.

Match #1 - Lesley Kerkhove/NED def. Samantha Stosur/AUS
The Aussies' brief return to the nasty period of thudding disappointment on home soil. Not shockingly, unfortunately, it was Stosur who crumbled against a player who'd never before won a Fed Cup singles match. But, as Barty did for Gavrilova in February, she bailed out her teammate. Good on ya, Ash.

Belgium def. Italy 4-0
[Genoa, ITA / RCO]
...the courtside death watch awaiting the ultimate demise of the Italian Fed Cup team has dragged out into a multi-season vigil. So much so that an original Quartet member has made something of a comeback, and a few new roster members have popped up and earned their stripes (none are named Giorgi, though, unfortunately). Deborah Chiesa clinched February's win over Spain with upset in an epic battle with Lara Arruabarrena. One might have expected it would have raised her status on the team, but Captain Tathiana Garbin didn't insert her into the lineup this weekend until the final dead doubles match. So who knows if Team Italia might have a diamond in rough who thrives on the FC stage. That'll have to be determined in '19 when the Italians return to WG II. Of course, it may not have mattered. The Belgians, 0-7 vs. Italy in their FC history, were just too deep to contend with, even on Italian clay, and Elise Mertens' standing in all things tennis (singles, doubles, Fed Cup, etc.) only seems to be rising at every turn nowadays. Still, even with promise lurking in the shadows of the Waffle FC effort for the first time since the Henin/Clijsters era, finding someone to captain this group seems to be oddly challenging. After losing to the one-woman Pastry team in February, Dominique Monami was removed as the Belgian captain. Ivo Van Aken stepped in for this tie, but stated it's a one-time thing and that he wouldn't have done it otherwise, declaring that a more long-term answer needs to be found. You wouldn't think it'd be so difficult. As Mertens goes, so goes this team... and as an AO semifinalist, Top 20 player, and multiple singles/doubles champion this season alone, she's a woman on the go for the foreeable future.

Elise Mertens/BEL
...Belgian Rumble roared in Genoa, and it won't likely be the last time, either. Mertens has been one of 2018's biggest breakout performers, building upon her '17 success with exponentially better results this time around. She could conceivably be a Top 10 player by year's end. After getting pushed a bit by Jasmine Paolini (who served for the 2nd set at 5-4) in Match #1, she finished her off in straight sets and didn't look back. She opened Day 2 with a 3 & 1 win over Sara Errani that clinched the tie, then further strengthen her dual-threat appeal by returning for a meaningless doubles match (w/ Kirsten Flipkens, part of Mertens' singles/doubles title sweep last week in Lugano) and posted another win over Chiesa/Paolini to finish off a rare road shutout.

Alison Van Uytvanck/BEL
...Van Uytvanck, too, has won multiple WTA singles titles over the past year. With Mertens' rise, she's a good #2 that would allow the Belgians to contend with most of the lower top-tier FC nations, and on a good week maybe even pull off a bigger upset. 11-1 in FC singles since 2014, Van Uytvanck's Match #2 win over Errani may prove to be the shove that finally sent the Italian team down the other side of the Fed Cup mountain, this time for good.
Sara Errani/ITA
...the veteran needed to at least win one match for the Italians to have a prayer of a chance. She didn't get it. After falling in three sets to Alison Van Uytvanck on Saturday, a match during which she was treated for a calf injury, she got just four games off Mertens in the clinching match. Italy battled its way out of WG II after falling there in 2017 following a decade of title contention (and four wins in eight years). As long as Errani is around, the chances of doing it again remain, no matter how low the team's ceiling may be in comparison to past triumphs. If not, the bottom will likely drop out, probably for at least a generation.
Match #2 - Alison Van Uytvanck/BEL def. Sara Errani/ITA
One final gasp?



Latvia def. Russia 3-2
[Khanty-Mansiysk, RUS / RCI]

...Lat-vi-a! Lat-vi-a! One might look at this as a case of two Fed Cup ships passing in the dead of night in Russia. Led by Alona Ostapenko, Latvian Thunder herself, Lavtia is a FC team on the move as long as the Roland Garros champion offers herself up for the cause. While the first tie in the first post-Anastasia Myskina era of Hordette FC tennis ended just like so many of them did when the former captain was there -- complete with an poor decision regarding the roster status and playing time of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a key loss by said Russian (though she DID actually win her opener this time), and a defeat of historic proportions -- the future may not be as bleak as the nation's 2019 fall into zone play for the first time since 1997 would appear to indicate. As long as Dasha Kasatkina is around and willing to offer up her time on occasion, a rebound is possible, and there are enough NextGen Hordettes (Potapova, Zhuk, Rybakina, etc.) to think that a rebuild from the ground up is entirely possible over the next 3-4 seasons. Of course, who'll lead that project from the FC sidelines is anyone's guess. Igor Andreev didn't seem much of an upgrade over the Czarina. There are surely other possible candidates, but are they willing to deal with the longtime sketchy (and oft-controversial) Russian Federation? Since the glory days of four title in five years during the 2000's, the Hordette Fed Cup effort's worst enemy has often been the organization assigned to run it. 2019 will be a case of all those chickens finally coming home to roost.

Alona Ostapenko/LAT
...while Ostapenko got off to a slow start to '18 after her busy offseason, some of her first positive steps came in February's Fed Cup week, when she won some big singles AND doubles matches, and rebounded from a potentially costly singles defeat. She had no such problems against the Hordettes, winning a pair of straight sets matches over Ekaterina Makarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to provide a solid foundation for the Latvian success story. Ostapenko's clay court prep for her title defense in Paris has begun, while she'll (hopefully) get to experience ever bigger Fed Cup realities beginning in 2019.

Anastasija Sevastova/LAT February, both Ostapenko and Sevastova slipped up in singles matches and then had to join forces to win deciding doubles matches, including in the Promotional Playoff victory that got Latvia to this stage. Sevastova did it again here, dropping the opening match to Ansastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets. But after Ostapenko's back-to-back singles wins, the longer WG II Playoff format enabled Sevastova to grab singles redemption. Her 2 & 5 win over Ekaterina Makarova avoided another deciding doubles match (possibly vs. Makarova/Vesnina), clinching Latvia's fifth straight win and a maiden berth in WG II. She's now 14-5 in her FC singles career.

Match #1 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Anastasija Sevastova/LAT
Pavlyuchenkova had gone 1-7 in FC singles since 2012, and former Captain Myskina's wrongheaded faith in her ability to turn things around rightly played a large role in her ouster and (now) Russia's fall into zone play for the first time in over two decades. So this one's a real unicorn. Stare at it just long enough to avoid becoming cross-eyed, but don't expect to see its like again any time soon.

"I won... can you believe it? I won... can you believe it? I won... can you believe it? I won... can you believe it? I won..."


Spain def. Paraguay 3-1
[Cartagena, ESP / RCO] of the most open-and-shut ties of the weekend, wouldn't you know it, still couldn't avoid at least a few worrisome moments for Spanish captain Anabel Medina-Garrigues. Finally armed with a roster that included Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez-Navarro, Muguruza struggled for nearly three hours to finish off Montserrat Gonzalez in Match #2 and secure the important 2-0 lead. She did, though, and the rest was elementary, as Team Espana ended its three tie losing streak and prevented Paraguay from successfully making a maiden entry into World Group II.

Garbine Muguruza/ESP
...the '16 Roland Garros champ went 2-0, improving her sterling career FC singles mark to 9-1.

Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
...CSN only got onto the court for one singles match in Cartagena, but it was a solid, no messin' around 2 & 2 win over Veronica Cepede Royg, setting the stage for Muguruza's three-setter over Gonzalez and tight TB 1st vs. VCR in a straight sets win on Sunday.

Match #2 - Garbine Muguruza/ESP def. Montserrat Gonzalez/PAR
While Veronica Cepede Royg played *the* key matches in zone play in February that got Paraguay here, it was Gonzalez who was nominated for and won the Fed Cup Heart Award for her performance. Still, it was VCR playing the #1 singles spot this weekend. Neither of the two notched a win, but Gonzalez *did* cause Mugu to go "all-Mugu" for a bit in this near three-hour battle to end Day 1.

Japan def. Great Britain 3-2
[Miki, JPN / HCI]
...meeting Japan for the first time in thirty-three years, Team GB was seeking to re-join the Fed Cup's Top 16 nations for the first time in twenty-five years. The Brits got close (as they have on four occasions in the last seven years, coming within one WG II Playoff of a breakthrough), but in the end it was the depth of the Japanese squad -- or, more accurately, the willingness to use it -- that got the win for the home nation. While Indian Wells champ Naomi Osaka's presence in Miki was a pre-tie talking point, she was simply a member of the team in the end, equal with everyone else. She got a win, but so did everyone else in the red-and-white uniforms this weekend. The story was similar to February's zone play success, when Japan emerged via a Promotional Playoff that came down to the deciding doubles vs. Kazakhstan. All four players got on the court in that tie, and all contributed victories during the week. This time around, the Japanese team pulled off the same feat over a *two* day swing.

Miyu Kato/Makoto Ninomiya, JPN
...these two have made quite a first impression. Kato & Makoto both made their Fed Cup debut in February, going 4-0 as a duo (Kato added a singles win) and winning the Promotional Playoff deciding doubles over the Kazakhs. In Miki, rather than see the court on a regular basis, they had to be spectators all weekend until they were called upon to save the day. When Konta & Watson were called in as a replacement doubles duo after splitting their Sunday singles matches, the heat was on. The Japanese duo went up an early break in the 1st, only to see the Brits take the set 6-3. But then the Japanese duo's familiarity (they were singles opponents in juniors as far back as 2008, and have gone 14-11 as partners in various non-FC events since 2012) paid off. They exploded out of the gate in the 2nd, leading 5-0 before the scoreline tightened. They held on to level the match, and took the 3rd for a 3-6/6-3/6-3 win that maintains their spotless FC record (5-0 as a duo, 6-0 w/ Kato's singles win).

Kurumi Nara/JPN
...Japan's February run was highlighted by an undervalued undefeated singles run from Nara, though she lost out to Yulia Putintseva in final voting for the Fed Cup's Heart Award for the Asia/Oceania zone despite the fact that the Kazakh lost a singles match and was part of the losing deciding doubles duo vs. JPN in the Promotional Playoff. Nara fell to Johanna Konta on Saturday, but with Japan's fate on the line in an elimination match she came back in Match #4 and defeated Heather Watson in straight sets, saving five SP in the 1st and giving teammates Kato & Ninomiya another chance to carry the nation to victory.

Johanna Konta/GBR
...Konta's season hasn't exactly been a dream. With one exception. While the Brit has gone 8-8 in WTA matches this year, her 2-0 mark this week (w/ straight sets wins over Kurumi Nara and a big one over Naomi Osaka, handing the 20-year old her first career FC loss) gives her a 5-0 mark in Fed Cup play in '18. Actually, she's won six straight singles matches going back to last season. But that doesn't count doubles, of course. Enlisted by Captain Anne Keothavong to add a third win to her weekend ledger in the deciding doubles, Konta and Heather Watson, both coming off Sunday singles matches, grabbed the opening set vs. the rested Kato & Ninomiya, only to see the Japanese duo sweep the final two sets to trash Team GB's hopes yet again. Thus, Britain's 25-year Top 16 drought will extend to a 26th year in 2019. But for the first time since the era of Virginia Wade & Co., GBR has a true #1 singles player for FC. As long as the Fed Cup format isn't blown up TOO much at some point, the drought *will* end. It's just a matter of when.

Match #4 - Kurumi Nara/JPN def. Heather Watson/GBR
Fed Cup Heart Award worthy? Anyone? Anyone? (Far off voice: I'm voting for Putintseva... I don't care if she didn't play!)


Canada def. Ukraine 3-2
[Montreal, CAN / HCI]
...The craziest tie of the week, and one of the wildest in years. The big news coming in was that the Canadian team included Genie Bouchard after a three-year absence following her "I'll pass" on handshakes, disastrous 0-2 weekend in Montreal vs. Romania in 2015. Oddly enough, "Curse of Genie" aside, Bouchard turned out to be the *only* stable thing about the Canadian roster, the youngest in World Group play this weekend, as by the end of the weekend nearly everyone was a member of the walking wounded.

First, Franckie Abanda was pulled from Match #1 at the last minute after a pre-match fall (periorbital contusion/black eye), replaced by 17-year old Bianca Andreescu. Andreescu was dominating Ukraine roster #1 (and recent Monterrey champ) Lesia Tsurenko, then cramped up, lost nine straight games, and collapsed in tears on the court. She stayed there for ten minutes, retiring and eventually being taken off in a wheelchair. With the score knotted at 1-1 after a Bouchard win, then 2-1 up after another, Abanda was pulled yet again on Sunday from Match #4 due to whiplash from the previous fall. She was replaced (again) by Andreescu, who then was replaced by doubles specialist and singles #364 Gaby Dabrowski.

At the time, I wondered if Captain Sylvain Bruneau might consider giving UKR a singles walkover so that a well-rested doubles specialist Gaby Dabrowski could team with Bouchard in the deciding doubles, avoiding having the one rested and healthy roster player being too tired to play back-to-back matches. But Dabrowski played, and amazingly stunned Kateryna Bondarenako by taking the 1st set, but was then dominated in sets 2 and 3. Still, Dabrowski was enlisted to come out *again* for the doubles, but not with Bouchard (who was willing to go). Instead, it was Andreescu in yet another lineup shuffle.

Maybe even more shockingly, it all worked out for the home team, with Andreescu/Dabrowski clinching the tie with a 6-3/4-6/6-3 win over Bondarenko & Olga Savchuk, but only after failing to serve things out at 5-2 in the 3rd and holding MP. They broke serve to secure the win.

So, you know... easy-peasy.

Genie Bouchard/CAN
...honestly, this one was so crazy, with everyone who got *near* Bouchard dropping like flies with their wings pulled off. So I considered leaving the MVP spot on the platform empty for this tie since I began this weekend talking about the notion of a "Genie Curse" on Canadian soil, then the string of freak accidents, injuries, and roster chaos that took place in Montreal served to make it look like a *real* thing. Somehow (or maybe according to plan?) the only one who avoided the mess was Bouchard herself. Not that there wasn't a close call...

But Bouchard *was* clutch, not to mention a one-woman port in the Canadian storm while the rest of the team was falling (Abanda), collapsing (Andreescu), and forced into sudden (Andreescu) or substitute (Dabrowski in singles, Andreescu in doubles) roles, so I *will* give her the three-letter-honor for the weekend.

Four years beyond her last FC win, and just 3-7 in *any* matches on Canadian soil since 2014, Bouchard posted a 6-2/7-5 win over Kateryna Bondarenko on Saturday to help Canada avoid a 0-2 hole after Andreescu's Match #1 retirement. On Sunday, she gave the team a 2-1 lead with a 2:39, 4-6/6-2/7-6(5) win over Lesia Tsurenko.

Bianca Andreescu/Gaby Dabrowski, CAN
...since Andreescu won a Fed Cup Heart Award for her FC efforts in February of last year, what does she get for this weekend? Pressed into action at the last minute on Day 1, she was a set and a half into a career highlight upset of Lesia Tsurenko, only to be felled by cramps and wheeled off the court. On Sunday she was a late singles substitute, then replaced by Dabrowski for Match #4, then a late doubles add herself *with* Dabrowski for the deciding doubles. Through it all, they both survived and got the three-set win over Bondarenko/Savchuk that will cause this tie to live on for years -- through all kinds of stories and rolled-eyes -- in Canadian tennis lore.


Match #1 - Lesia Tsurenko/UKR def. Bianca Andreescu/CAN
...4-6/6-3/4-0 ret.
The great upset -- or great match -- that wasn't. Andreescu now has a history of pushing top players hard in FC matches, only to usually lose valiantly in three, often hobbling with an injury. This time it was cramping that scuttled a 6-4/3-1 lead after she'd been a (literal) last minute sub for Franckie Abanda after she fell before the match.


...a diverse mixture of national rosters took part in zone play in Athens during the week, from the victorious host nation led by one of the tour's up-and-coming twentysomethings, to juniors, a new mother, and even a pair of sisters (born a decade apart) playing together for the first time.

=Promotional Playoff=

Greece def. Luxembourg 2-1
=Promotional Playoff=

Denmark def. Israel 2-1
Maria Sakkari/GRE and Emilie Francati/Maria Jespersen, DEN

...the 22-year old Sakkari seems on the verge of a true breakout moment. She's ranked in the Top 50 after after finished '17 at #48, and last season reached a career-best 3rd Round at three different slams. Last fall in Wuhan, she qualified and played in her maiden tour final after posting consecutive wins over the likes of Putintseva, Wozniacki, Vesnina and Cornet. On the North American hard court swing this year, Sakkari knocked off Aleksandra Krunic and Anett Kontaveit in Miami, after having gotten previous Indian Wells wins over Donna Vekic, Ash Barty and CoCo Vandeweghe, and even pushing eventual champ Naomi Osaka to three sets. This week, she gave the home fans exactly what they came for -- a successful week of FC action that saw Greece come out on top in the end. In Athens, she went undefeated in singles (3-0), and joined with Valentini Grammatikopoulou (herself coming off Q-runs in Monterrey and Bogota) in the deciding doubles to defeat Luxembourg's Minella/Molinaro duo 3-6/6-2/6-4 to advance.

Meanwhile, Sakkari is spreading good will all around the Greek tennis landscape, as well.

In the second E/A II Promotional Playoff, the '18 ITF doubles success -- including back-to-back $15K titles in March -- of the all-Dane duo of Francati & Jespersen paid off for the Danish team. The pair went 3-0 on the week, including a win over Julia & Lina Glushko in the deciding doubles match that sealed Denmark's 2-1 PP win over Israel. So, slowly but surely, the Danish team is building depth. The doubles are set, as well as the "bench singles" slot (Karen Barritza), youngster-to-watch (Clara Tauson) and established top-level #1 (Caroline Wozniacki, though she unsurprisingly sat this one out) roles. Once Tauson matures a little bit more, as long as Caro is still around in a couple of years, maybe the Danes could take a stab at rising a bit higher on the FC ladder rather than the usual existence somewhere along the border of zone play and WG II. Denmark last played in the Fed Cup quarterfinals in 1988.

Malene Helgo/NOR
...the 18-year old played a big role in Norway's only win in pool play, a 2-1 victory over Israel, teaming with Astrid Wanja Brune Olsen to defeat the Glushko sisters in a 3rd set TB to take the deciding doubles. In that same tie, Helo also pushed the older Glushko, Julia, to three sets in the second singles match.

Clara Tauson/DEN and Eleonora Molinaro/LUX
...15-year old Tauson, the youngest player involved in this FC weekend, made her singles debut for the Danish team in Athens. She went 1-1 in pool play, then contributed an important opening match win in the Promotional Playoff against Israel, defeating Vlada Ekshibarova 6-2/6-1. 16-2 in junior action in 2018, Tauson has won two singles (a G1 and G2) and two doubles (a GA and G2) titles this season, as well as reaching a Grade A singles final. The Dane won her first career ITF title last October in a $15K challenger in Stockholm.


Fed cup!????

A post shared by Emilie Francati (@emiliefrancati) on

Molinaro, 17, held up her half of the Luxembourg squad along with veteran Mandy Minella, going 2-1 in pool play and recording a three-set win over Valentini Grammatikopoulu in the opening match of the Promotional Playoff against Greece. She and Minella won a deciding doubles match over BIH during the week, but lost a similar clash with the Greeks in the PP, falling to Grammatikopoulou & Maria Sakkari 3-6/6-2/6-4. Molinaro is 18-2 on the junior circuit in '18, with G2 and G4 singles titles, and a G1 runner-up in Prague.

She seems to have made a good impression on new mom Minella, too...

She‘s the future of our Sport in #luxembourg ???? #letsmakeithappen

A post shared by Mandy Minella (@mandyminella) on

Julia & Lina Glushko, ISR
...though the Israeli sisters (Julia is a decade older than her 18-year old sibling), were clutch performers during the week, they couldn't quite knock down the final door. Playing in their first official matches as a doubles duo, the Glushkos won two tie-deciding matches (over LUX and BIH) during the week's pool play, then fell in three sets to the Danes in the Promotional Playoff finale. Julia went 4-0 in singles, as well, defeating the likes of Mandy Minella, Malene Helgo and Karen Barritza to force the deciding doubles match in the PP.

All three Glushko siblings...

so much love ??

A post shared by Julia Glushko (@julglushko) on

Europe/Africa II Promotional Playoff Match #2 - Maria Sakkari def. Mandy Minella
An emphatic win for the Greek, setting up the deciding doubles match in which she also got a win over Minella, though in that case it took three sets.

[EUROPE/AFRICA III ZONE - Tunis, TUN & Ulcinj, MNE / RCO] the end, there were few surprises in E/A III, but an upstart team from Malta at least made things interesting.

=Promotional Playoff=

South Africa def. Malta 2-1
=Promotional Playoff=

Tunisia def. Lithuania 2-1
Chanel Simmonds/RSA and Ons Jabeur/TUN
...Simmonds performed double duty in leading South Africa out of E/A III play, going 3-1 in singles (including a Promotional Playoff win that sent things to the deciding doubles vs. Malta), and also teaming with Madrie Le Roux in doubles. The duo won a pair of deciding doubles matches (vs. FIN and MNE) in pool play, then did it a third time against the Maltese team of Francesca Curmi & Elaine Genovese, winning 6-1/6-1. In what has become a lean period for South African women's tennis, 25-year old Simmonds has been the top singles threat for quite a while now, though she's been far more reliable on clay (10-6 ws/17-7 overall) than hard court (5-10/6-14).

Meanwhile, Jabeur led Tunisia's undefeated home court defense, as the nation swept through pool play and then clinched a Promotional Playoff win over Lithuania by sweeping both singles matches. Jabeur was 5-0 on the week, clinched the PP with her win over Joana Eidukonyte in match #2, and now edges ever so close to surpassing Selima Sfar as Tunisia's "all-time" Fed Cup player. Her 30 total match wins are now within striking distance of Sfar's record (41), and 22 singles victories mean Jabeur could surpass Sfar's total of 24 during her next FC nomination in '19.

Joana Eidukonyte/LTU
...the 23-year old, a former NCAA All-American at Clemson, Eidukonyte went 3-0 in pool play for Lithuania, but her loss to Ons Jabeur in the Promotional Playoff was the final straw in her nation's attempt to close out the week with a win. Well, unless you count the dead rubber doubles victory that made the official PP final score 2-1 in favor of Tunisia.
Chiraz Bechri/TUN
...the 19-year old joined teammate Ons Jabeur with a spotless record for the week. She went 5-0 in singles (TUN was 12-for-12 in matches overall), including a straight sets win over 19-year old Paulina Bakaite in the opening match of Tunisia's Promotional Playoff win over Lithuania.
Francesca Curmi/MLT
...fellow Maltese teen Helene Pellicano has gotten more attention for her junior accomplishments, but 15-year old Curmi (just five and a half months older than Dane Clara Tauson, the youngest player in FC play this past week) held her own in E/A III pool play. She was 2-0 in both singles and doubles in pool play, and picked up a tie-opening win in the Promotional Playoff against South Africa. Teaming with Elaine Genovese, Curmi suffered her first career FC loss in a 6-1/6-1 defeat at the hands of Chanel Simmonds & Madrie Le Roux. She's now a combined 6-1 (3-0/3-1) in her brief career for the national team.

CURMI (l) and PELLICANO (r) at last year's European Championships
Madrie Le Roux/RSA
...Le Roux combined with Simmonds to go 3-0 in deciding doubles matches for the week, including the clinching Promotional Playoff win over the Maltese team. Le Roux posted another non-deciding doubles win with teammate Minette Van Vreden earlier in the week. It all proved to contribute to a memorable birthday for the newly 23-year old.

Will never forget my 23rd birthday! ????

A post shared by Madrie le Roux (@madrieleroux) on

Europe/Africa III Promotional Playoff Match #3 - Madrie Le Roux/Chanel Simmonds (RSA) def. Francesca Curmi/Elaine Genovese (MLT)
And Malta's unexpected run comes to an unceremonious end.

18 - United States
10 - Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia
7 - Australia
5 - Spain
4 - Italy
4 - Russia
2 - France
2 - West Germany/Germany
1 - Belgium
1 - Slovakia
1 - South Africa
FINALS w/o TITLE: BLR(1),GBR(4),NED(2),SRB(1),SUI(1)
[Finals since 2010]
6...Czech Republic (5-0)*
3...United States (1-1)*
3...Russia (0-3)
2...Italy (2-0)
1...Belarus (0-1)
1...France (0-1)
1...Germany (0-1)
1...Serbia (0-1)
[Finals since 2000]
8...Russia (4-4)
6...Czech Republic (5-0)*
6...United States (2-3)*
5...Italy (4-1)
4...France (1-3)
3...Spain (0-3)
2...Belgium (1-1)
1...Belarus (0-1)
1...Slovakia (1-0)
1...Germany (0-1)
1...Serbia (0-1)

2000 USA d. ESP 5-0
2001 BEL d. RUS 2-1
2002 SVK d. ESP 3-1
2003 FRA d. USA 4-1
2004 RUS d. FRA 3-2
2005 RUS d. FRA 3-2
2006 ITA d. BEL 3-2
2007 RUS d. ITA 4-0
2008 RUS d. ESP 4-0
2009 ITA d. USA 4-0
2010 ITA d. USA 3-1
2011 CZE d. RUS 3-2
2012 CZE d. SRB 3-1
2013 ITA d. RUS 4-0
2014 CZE d. GER 3-1
2015 CZE d. RUS 3-2
2016 CZE d. FRA 3-2
2017 USA d. BLR 3-2
2018 United States at Czech Republic

**2019 FED CUP**
=World Group=
Czech Republic
United States
=World Group II=

...the 24-year old has come close to climbing part-way up the tennis mountain before. She's had four consecutive Top 100 seasons, but the closest thing she's had to a "breakout" campaign came in 2016. That year, she reached the Top 60 in singles, and the doubles Top 15. She posted three Top 10 wins that season (Kvitova, Kerber and Radwanska) without dropping a set in any of those matches. But she's never quite gotten over the proverbial "hump," with her biggest previous singles win coming in a WTA 125 Series event in 2015. After being out of action from the end of last year's U.S. Open until mid-March, Zheng matched her career-best win by taking this week's 125 Series event in Zhengzhou, China. Entering as the world #139, Zheng knocked off #2-seeded Peng Shuai, then followed with victories over Liu Fangzhou, Jia Lu (love & love), Han Xinyun and the Wang Yafan in the final, 5-7/6-2/6-1.
RISER: Wang Yafan/CHN
...the 23-year old recently put on a Round of 16 run in Miami as a qualifier, breaking into the Top 100 for the first time. This week, the world #98 reached both the singles and doubles finals at the WTA 125 Series event in Zhengzhou. She posted wins over Sabina Sharipova, Zhu Lin and Yanina Wickmayer before losing to Zheng Saisai in the final, but rebounded by claiming the doubles title (her third career WTA 125 win) with Duan Yingying. The pair won the tour-level Taipei City tournament earlier this year, as well as another 125 in Hua Hin last season.
SURPRISE: Mai Minokoshi/JPN
...the 26-year old (#336) reached the Zhengzhou 125 QF, qualifying with Q-round wins over Olivia Tjandramulia and Anna Kamenskaya, then posted MD victories over Tian Ran and You Xiaodi. Prior to this week, Minokoshi's most notable results may have been her two singles losses to Laura Robson, or possibly her 3rd set TB defeat at the hands of Destanee Aiava a week ago.
...Han, 27, won the Zhengzhou 125 doubles title a year ago with Zhu Lin (and later ended the season by taking the Elite Trophy WD w/ Duan Yinging). Playing with Vera Zvonareva this year, Han fell in the semis to Duan & Wang Yafan in a 3rd set TB. But she posted a far better singles result in the event this time around than she did in '17, when she lost her 1st Round match to Zarina Diyas. This week, coming in ranked #173, she advanced past Nao Hibino, Jang Su-jeong and Danielle Lao en route to the semis.
ITF PLAYERS: Varvara Flink/RUS and Taylor Townsend/USA
...Flink, 21, reached her fourth consecutive challenger final at the $15K in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The Hordette grabbed her third straight title (15 consecutive wins) with a 6-0/6-3 victory in the final over countrywoman Polina Golubuvskaya. Flink missed over seven months with injury before her return to the court in March. She's won all four of her career ITF singles crowns since last May.

Townsend won the $80K challenger in Dothan, Alabama, grabbing the lead in the USTA's Roland Garros Wild Card Challenge. Her seventh career ITF win came after posting a trio of three-set victories to end the week, vs. Silvia Soler Espinosa (QF), Sesil Karatantcheva (SF) and Mariana Duque Marino (F). Colombian Duque, 28, had been looking to win her biggest singles title since claiming her lone WTA win in Bogota in 2010. Should Townsend do the expected and win the WC into the RG main draw (she also won the USTA's WC Challenge for RG in '14 and '16, as well as the competition to reach this year's AO draw, though her results while doing so pushed her ranking high enough to automatically qualify for the MD), she'll get another chance to play the only slam in which she's posted a victory. From 2014-17, she won four MD matches in Paris. She's 0-6 in the MD at the other three majors, and has fallen short if six additional qualifying attempts in the events. Townsend will edge close to her career high ranking with this win, coming in a #91 after having been as high as #89 in January.
JUNIOR STARS: Wang Xiyu/CHN and Helene Pellicano/MLT
...Top 10 junior Wang began her season by reaching the Traralgon girls final, as well as the junior singles QF and doubles SF in Melbourne. The 17-year old was given a wild card into the WTA 125 event in Zhengzhou, where she posted a main draw win over Naomi Broady, who was coming off a pair of 20+ ace matches in singles and her maiden tour-level doubles title in Monterrey (she shined in doubles at this event, as well).

While the 16-year old wasn't with the Maltese Fed Cup team this week, she *was* busy winning, as in claiming the doubles title (w/ Spaniard Marta Custic) at the G2 Open d'Istres with a 10-8 3rd set TB win over top-seeded Loudmilla Bencheikh/Park Sohyun. The pair were runners-up at the Grade 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero junior event a few weeks ago. In 2016, Pellicano became the first Maltese player to win a European Championships (14s) singles crown.

1. Zhengzhou 125 Final - Zheng Saisai def. Wang Yafan
Hmmm, if there was a Hall of Fame for the WTA 125 Series, Zheng would be in it. She's now won more total titles in the series than any other player, claiming her fourth with this win. With singles titles in '15 and this week, she's tied for the most with Belinda Bencic and Zheng Shuai, while she also has a pair of doubles crowns (behind leader Chuang Chia-jung's three).

Of note, if Wang, who went on to win the doubles title, had also won *this* match it would have been *her* who would have been the first woman to win four WTA 125 Series titles, as she would have added her maiden singles title to her now three career wins in doubles.
2. Daegu WC Final - Yui Kamiji def. Katharina Kruger
The Japanese wheelchair star, with Diede de Groot idle, swept all eight sets in Korea to claim her third '18 title and re-claim the #1 ranking from the Dutch AO champ. To be continued...
3. Zhengzhou 125 1st Round - Duan Yingying def. Ankita Raina
25-year old Raina, the top singles player in India, has already reached a career high ranking (#194), won her biggest title ($25K), and notched her biggest career win (Puntintseva in FC). She reached the MD last week after winning a three-set battle over Zhang Ling in the final round, but couldn't make it two straight over Duan.

My, Raina is relentlessly positive. Another reason why she should have won that Fed Cup Heart Award a few weeks ago

1. $25K Obidos Final - ULA RADWANSKA vs. Katie Boulter
weather delays have pushed this challenger final to Monday, but it'll be Radwanska's first singles final of any kind since she was runner-up to Lesia Tsurenko in the tour-level Istanbul event in 2015. Ula has already defeated two top 5 seeds in the event, and #2 Boulter would be the third. Her last title came in an ITF event in Nottingham in 2012 (def. CoCo Vandeweghe), while the most recent singles crown claimed by ANY Radwanska sister came in Beijing in the fall of 2016.


Fed cup ???? #thankseveryone??

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Out here drippin in finesse 🎾

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??????@aussiefedcupteam ??????

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STUTTGART, GERMANY (Premier/Red Clay Indoor)
[1978-2005 - Filderstadt]
2006 Nadia Petrova def. Tatiana Golovin 6–3, 7–6(4)
2007 Justine Henin def. Tatiana Golovin 2–6, 6–2, 6–1
2008 Jelena Jankovic def. Nadia Petrova 6–4, 6–3
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Dinara Safina 6–4, 6–3
2010 Justine Henin def. Samantha Stosur 6–4, 2–6, 6–1
2011 Julia Goerges def. Caroline Wozniacki 7–6(3), 6–3
2012 Maria Sharapova def. Victoria Azarenka 6–1, 6–4
2013 Maria Sharapova def. Li Na 6–4, 6–3
2014 Maria Sharapova def. Ana Ivanovic 3–6, 6–4, 6–1
2015 Angelique Kerber def. Caroline Wozniacki 3–6, 6–1, 7–5
2016 Angelique Kerber def. Laura Siegemund 6–4, 6–0
2017 Laura Siegemund def. Kristina Mladenovic 6–1, 2–6, 7–6(5)
QF: Mladenovic d. Suarez-Navarro
QF: Sharapova d. Kontaveit
QF: Halep d. Sevastova
QF: Siegemund d. Ka.Pliskova
SF: Mladenovic d. Sharapova
SF: Siegemund d. Halep
F: Siegemund d. Mladenovic
[1978-2005 - Filderstadt]
2006 Raymond/Stosur d. Black/Stubbs
2007 Peschke/Stubbs d. L.Chan/Safina
2008 Groeefeld/Schnyder d. Peschke/Stubbs
2009 Mattek-Sands/Petrova d. Dulko/Pennetta
2010 Dulko/Pennetta d. Peschke/Srebotnik
2011 Lisicki/Stosur d. Barrois/Woehr
2012 Benesova/Zahlavova-Strycova d. Goerges/Groenefeld
2013 Barthel/Lisicki d. Mattek-Sands/Mirza
2014 Errani/Vinci d. Black/Mirza
2015 Mattek-Sands/Safarova d. Garcia/Srebotnik
2016 Garcia/Mladenovic d. Hingis/Mirza
2017 Atawo/Ostapenko d. Spears/Srebotnik
SF: Spears/Srebotnik d. Groenefeld/Pesckhe
SF: Atawo/Ostapenko d. Hlavackova/Stosur
F: Atawo/Ostapenko d. Spears/Srebotnik
WS: #1 Halep, #2 Muguruza
WD: #1 Klepac/MJMS, #2 Kudryavtseva/Sestini-Hlavackova

...Whoosh! What a draw. The 1st Round has Kvitova/Kerber, Stephens/Vandeweghe, DC Siegemund/Strycova and Sharapova/Garcia. The 2nd could give us Muguruza/Keys, Halep/Kasatkina and Svitolina/Goerges.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Int'l/Red Clay Outdoor)
2005 Venus Williams def. Nicole Vaidisova 6–3, 6–2
2006 Shahar Peer def. Anastasia Myskina 1–6, 6–3, 7–6(3)
2007 Elena Dementieva def. Aravane Rezai 7–6(5), 3–0, ret.
2008 Aga Radwanska def. Elena Dementieva 6–3, 6–2
2009 Vera Dushevina def. Lucie Hradecka 6–0, 6–1
2010 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova def. Elena Vesnina 5–7, 7–5, 6–4
2011–2013 - Not held because of WTA Championships
2014 Caroline Wozniacki def. Roberta Vinci 6–1, 6–1
2015 Lesia Tsurenko def. Ula Radwanska 7–5, 6–1
2016 Cagla Buyukakcay def. Danka Kovinic 3–6, 6–2, 6–3
2017 Elina Svitolina def. Elise Mertens 6–2, 6–4
QF: Svitolina d. Cirstea
QF: Cepelova d. Yastremska
QF: Begu d. Eraydin
QF: Mertens d. Buyukakcay
SF: Svitolina d. Cepelova
SF: Mertens d. Svitolina
F: Svitolina d. Mertens
2005 Marrero/Ant.Serra Zanetti d. D.Klemenschits/S.Klemenschits
2006 A.Bondarenko/Yakimova d. Mirza/Molik
2007 A.Radwanska/U.Radwanska d. L.Chan/Mirza
2008 Craybas/Govortsova d. Erakovic/Hercog
2009 Hradecka/Voracova d. Goerges/Schnyder
2010 Daniilidou/Woehr d. Kondratieva/Uhlirova
2011–2013 - Not held because of WTA Championships
2014 Doi/Svitolina d. Kalashnikova/Kania
2015 Gavrilova/Svitolina d. Buyukakcay/Jankovic
2016 Mitu/Soylu w/o Knoll/Kovinic
2017 Jakupovic/N.Kichenok d. Melichar/Mertens
SF: Jakupovic/N.Kichenok d. Hibino/Kovinic
SF: Melichar/Mertens d. Babos/Buyukakcay
F: Jakupovic/N.Kichenok d. Melichar/Mertens
WS: #1 Wozniacki, #2 Kuznetsova
WD: #1 K.Bondarenko/Krunic, #2 Schoofs/Voracova

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

If Aksu wins in Istanbul, the Parmentier slump will have reached epic proportions.

Mertens the only 3 pointer this weekend-even though it was a dead rubber.

Two interesting doubles teams from Stuttgart- Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe, and Bertens/Schuurs.

The fact the Bondarenko/Krunic ase the #1 seed means doubles will be fun in Istanbul.

Stat of the Week-9- The number of times Russia has played a former USSR member in Fed Cup.

Obviously, due to the Latvia/Russia matchup, it was time to take a look at what Russia had done in the past vs the old USSR. Although they are 5-4, the numbers are troubling.

Russia vs new republics:

Russia took advantage in the early years, but with this weekend's loss to Latvia, hasn't beaten any since 1997, which also is the last time they were out of World Group.

The other countries are only getting stronger, and with Vesnina over 30, and Makarova turning 30 later this year, it may be time to look toward the future. Kasatkina, Vikhlantseva, Blinkova, and others may be their future.

Quiz Time!
Stuttgart has seen more women from France reach the final than Germany in the last 20 years. Which of these women won the title? Multiple answers accepted.

A.Sandrine Testud
B.Mary Pierce
C.Amelie Mauresmo
D.Tatiana Golovin
E.Kristina Mladenovic

Interlude-More Up/Down Side, plus this thought: With Noah stepping down, does Mary Pierce step up? Does Mauresmo come back? Or does a Guy Forget type come in?

A. I worded the question vaguely enough that I have to give credit for 2 answers. I would give partial credit to B-Pierce, as she won before the last 20 years, but has reached the final within. Mauresmo is not the answer, as she reached the last 2 finals played at Filderstadt but did not win. Nor is it Golovin, who reached the first 2 in Stuttgart, but left without a title. Mladenovic was the obvious no, as she lost in the final last year, leaving the 1998 Filderstadt winner as A-Sandrine Testud.

Mon Apr 23, 09:44:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

5 On the Up Side.

1.Goerges-She could win this, she could also flame out in the first round. But she may have a chip on her shoulder. If you remember, the normally likeable Goerges made some cross statements last year as she did not play, passed over for a wild card in favor of Siegemund. At the time, Goerges was the former winner, Siegemund the prior year's finalist. Interestingly enough, Stuttgart was proven right, not just from Siegemund winning with the WC, but Sharapova reaching the SF with one, making it the only WTA event last year in which 2 or more WC reached the SF. Shockingly, it happened 3 times with 2 or more women from qualies-Hobart(Mertens/Fett), Biel(Vondrousova/Sasnovich), Japan(Fett/Kato/Diyas).
2.Sharapova-3 time winner has had a month off. I don't expect many deep runs this year, but she is healthy enough to make every shot a power shot. That was lame. But she isn't, as all of her injuries in her comeback have been from the waist up. QF here whouldn't ba a shock.
3.Siegemund- Could easily be on the other list even with being a finalist the last 2 years. One of the odd storylines this week? Siegemund did not use her protected ranking, and Sharapova would have been in qualies. So they both have wild cards again. The protected ranking becomes part of the storyline, because with her Stuttgart points coming off, she goes from being in the French(locked in), to being out of qualies for Wimbledon, as live ranking drops to 270. A win puts her on the bubble, right behind Kerkhove and Robson.
4.Bertens- I am obligated to put one of the clay Big 4 on here, and Bertens has a better draw than the other 3, Halep being the only one to have played Fed Cup this week.
5.Sakkari-Not on here because of Fed Cup, but on the other side of the draw away from Wozniacki in Istanbul. Since her 6 match losing streak ended, she has played better. 2-4 vs Top 20 in the last year, and reached the Wuhan SF. Is this the week she makes a final?

Mon Apr 23, 10:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

5 On the Down Side.

1.Kerber-Let's be honest. Like Pliskova, who has 80% of her good clay results in Prague, Kerber has 80% in Stuttgart. So Kvitova was going to be a tough out. The thought being that on home soil, she would have a chance. No chance. The red flag is that Pliskova demolished her. That killed her Fed Cup chances, and with another matchup against Kvitova, the QF streak should end too. Note-Kerber might have been a pick here, but not because of the tournament being in Germany, but because 5 of her 11 titles have come indoors.
2.V.Williams- Not a true down, as nobody expected her to play here. After all, she hasn't since 2008. But it does let me point out a couple of things. Venus is the only player in the Top 32, injured Cibulkova is 33rd, to have not played Stuttgart, Istanbul, or Fed Cup. Also note that Venus only played here 3 times, and Serena only 4, making it one of the few premier tournaments neither has ever won.
3.Buzarnescu- The soon to be 30 yr old has been like a Kentucky basketball player-one and done- too often recently. 2-6 since beating Ostapenko, she hasn't built on her 2017 season.
4.Kontaveit- Stop me if this sounds familiar. 1-6 since beating Ostapenko, she hasn't built on her 2017 season.
5.Kuznetsova- She's playing like her old self. That's not a compliment. You see, she has lost her first 3 matches in her comeback this year, similar to losing her last 3 before her injury break last year. This has actually gone on long enough that she hasn't won a match since the US Open. Like Stosur, the questions are being asked-is this her true level?

Mon Apr 23, 10:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

The ex-USSR list shows, I guess, just about how long it takes for a country to essentially put together a successful national tennis infrastructure (though, of course, many players eventually leave at a young age to train elsewhere at various academies if they show promise), but maybe more so, to realistically establish the dreams of young kids (and their families) that such a career is even possible for someone from there -- about 20 years. It says something that RUS didn't even play an ex-Soviet state in FC until recently.

Yes, that's why some change needs to be made with the RUS Federation to get the younger players to buy in to FC like the Original Hordettes did. Still like the idea of one or both of the Safin(a) siblings being involved somehow.

I think you probably know which French FC scenario I'd LIKE to see happen. If Amelie would like to come back, I don't know how they could refuse. But how she'd mesh with the recent structure and threat-based incentive plans of the French Federation makes me question the realistic possibilities of it happening. Amelie "whispers" incentives, she doesn't try to guilt trip or hold suspensions over players' heads to appeal to their national pride. I doubt that she'd have a series of three-member squads if *she* was captain.

QUIZ: I had Mauresmo and Golovin. I'd probably had a better idea had I recorded all the Filderstadt winners, rather than just Stuttgart, in this week's post. :(

Haha! I remember those ads! I suspect little Dolce is probably no longer with us, though. :\

Yeah, the Kerber loss to Pliskova sunk the German team. I'd figured it'd get to the doubles and I went with the Germans to take it. Of course, if I'd known I'd get all my *other* nine FC picks right, and *only* miss CZE/GER, I'd probably gone the "safer" route and picked the Czechs, too. Post-prediction analysis is always prickly. ;)

Hmmm, I was at least a tiny bit encouraged that Kuznetsova's last loss went three sets (vs. Barthel) rather than in straights like her first two, so I saw that as a little progress after such a long break. But maybe that's just "hope" talking. Hmmm.

Mon Apr 23, 01:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Noah is a long-time friend of Mauresmo’s, and I assume she asked him to take over for as long as he could. Her return would be the best thing for the team, of course, but if she chooses not to return, I have no idea who would be selected.

Mon Apr 23, 01:43:00 PM EDT  
Blogger E G Robertson said...

Bit late with this comment, but just wanted to say that I love your Fed Cup write-ups.

Regarding the next (hopefully returning) French FC captain - there seems to be zero speculation about who will take over the role, in contrast to the speculation on who will take over from Noah in the DC role - and the sense I'm getting from the French media* is that they are assuming Mauresmo is returning.

L'Equipe are reporting that Mauresmo went to Madrid at the end of last week to meet with the Davis Cup players, suggesting that she is also very interested in the DC captain role.

I recall reading something late last year or earlier this year that Giudicelli is not in favour of having the same person in both roles. Interestingly, Mauresmo not only pulled the plug on Giudicelli's special advisory 'Podium' of former French champions last summer, but was the only person of the four members to tell the press why - which strikes me as uncharacteristic of her, but essentially she wanted it known that she, Forget, Pioline and Noah didn't want to be blamed for the FFT president's screw-ups.

*Disclaimer, I'm not French so maybe I'm reading everything wrong...

Tue May 08, 01:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Thanks. It's a lot of info to corral, but probably personally even more interesting to put together than any of the other posts during the season. (It helps to get most of my picks right, too... argh, still thinking about missing on the Czechs) :)

I've always had questions about a single person being in charge of both FC and DC, unless a future format would have them both taking place at the same time at a single site. Most Captains have a hard enough time convincing enough players to adequately fill one roster (*and* make intelligent gameday decisions), let alone having to do it on both sides of the aisle. It would seem they'd be more likely to have more success when handling just one.

Distancing oneself from Giudicelli's tyrannical personality is probably the best chance the next FC and DC captain -- be it one or two people -- might have in convincing France's best players to return to the fold and stay there (it hasn't seemed to be as difficult getting the men to play, but a few of them *are* getting a bit long in the tooth and will need to be replaced before too long).

At least as far as the women are concerned, it's hard to see the team having any sort of consistently competitive future if *every* tie is going to have to be placed on Mladenovic's back. It's one thing if it's a small country with just one big-time player and little in the way of expectation, but France doesn't really fit any of those categories.

Haha. Well, French or not, that sounds like as good a take as any. And, anyway, I'm *from* the U.S. and had no clue how or why MJF managed to maintain her captaincy for as long as she did, or how the USTA finally made the right decision regarding Rinaldi after having been so clueless for so many years prior to that moment. Both are just two of the unsolvable "mysteries of life," I think.

Tue May 08, 01:36:00 PM EDT  

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