In the Federation Cup semifinals played in Birmingham, after the U.S. and Russia split the first two rubbers, Melanie Oudin started out the day with a loss. Elena Dementieva defeated Oudin 7-6,0-6,6-3 to put Russia ahead 2-1. An unlikely savior emerged to pull the Americans through. Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat 6-4,2-6,6-3 Ekaterina Makarova in singles. Then, less than one hour later, Mattek-Sands partnered with Liezel Huber trouncing Alla Kudryavtseva and Dementieva 6-3,6-1 giving the U.S. a 3-2 win over Russia and a berth in the finals.
In the initial match yesterday, after being unsettled in the beginning, Oudin found her game. Oudin took the rubber 6-3,6-3 over Kudryavtseva. However, in the second tie, Dementieva despite the reappearance of her service woes fought off Mattek-Sands to prevail 6-4, 6-3.
Today, the first rubber featured Dementieva and Oudin. After each player was broken five consecutive times, each held sending the first set to a tiebreaker. Dementieva got an initial mini-break, but lost her two service points to give Oudin a 2-1 advantage. Again at 3 all, Oudin connected on a forehand winner for a mini-break lead. However, by forcing a string of errors, Dementieva won the next four points to steal the set.
After opening with a service break, Oudin ran away with the second set capturing it at love. In the decisive third set, Oudin got three successive forehand errors from Dementieva to obtain the break for 2-1. However, by conversely pressuring Oudin into multiple miscues, Dementieva equalized the set at 2 all. On the heels of love hold, Dementieva placed a great return thereby provoking an error from Oudin for break point. When Oudin sliced the backhand into the net, Dementieva went up 4-2. After dismissing two break points, Dementieva threw in an ace to consolidate for 5-2. Later, Dementieva closed out the match with a love game to hand Russia a 2-1 lead.
With the U.S. in a must win position, Mattek-Sands faced Makarova in the next match. After allowing two game points to evaporate and handing the break to Makarova to open the set, Mattek-Sands held serve to keep within striking distance. With Makarova serving at 4-3, using sensational defense, Mattek-Sands enticed a backhand error from her opponent for double break point. With a great return followed by a volley winner, Mattek-Sands leveled the set at 4 all. After wiping out break point and holding, Mattek-Sands erased two game points by Makarova to snatch the set.
The second set, with a backhand volley winner, Makarova had double break point. The Russian converted a backhand down the line winner to break in the first game. Serving at 2-1, Makarova saved eight break points before finally guarding serve. Subsequently, after Mattek-Sands had 40-0, Makarova found a way to break extending her lead to 4-1. The players traded breaks the next two games. Serving for the set, Makarova effaced two more break points and ultimately pocketed the set.
In the third set, Mattek-Sands drew the first break for 2-0. But, Makarova broke back promptly. Still by staying aggressive, Mattek-Sands forced Makarova to misfire with the backhand for triple break point. Next with a forehand up the line return winner, Mattek-Sands was out in front 3-1. After consolidating for 4-1, Mattek-Sands pushed Makarova into donating a few errors stretching her lead to 5-1. Subsequent to dropping serve her first time serving for the match, the second time, with a volley winner, Mattek-Sands arrived at match point. When Makarova’s forehand sailed long, Mattek-Sands seized the rubber.
In the doubles rubber, Huber and Mattek-Sands battled Dementieva and Kudryavtseva and from the outset, the Russians looked out of sorts. After a strong opening game by Huber and exchanged of breaks, with a mid-court volley winner, the U.S. team had another break point. When the Russians dumped a volley into the net, the U.S. went ahead 3-1. After easily consolidating and with Mattek-Sands closing out a love game with an ace, the U.S. extended its advantage to 5-2. Later, Huber closed out the set with a strong service game.
With a break, Huber and Mattek-Sands grabbed the first game of the second set. Then, by continuing their strong net play, they took a 2-0 advantage. In a game where Dementieva was in front 40-15, the Americans fought back to capture a second break for 3-0. Despite Mattek-Sands dropping serve to reduce the deficit to 3-1, a visibly dejected Russian side seemed to have nothing further to give. With Kudryavtseva serving, Dementieva sent a lob out of bounds gifting the U.S. triple break point. The Americans converted when Kudryavtseva double faulted. After Huber held for 5-1, with a forehand winner by Mattek-Sands, the U.S. broke the Russians for the fourth time to wrap up the victory.
Today, Mattek-Sands made U.S. Fed Cup history by joining Lindsay Davenport and U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez in the distinguished category of players who have won singles and doubles back to back to push the U.S. into the next round.
Defending champion Italy led by Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone thrashed the Czech Republic at home in their semis. Italy carried all five rubbers to reach their second straight final. As a result, this year’s final will be a rematch of the 2009 one. This time however, the U.S. will have home field advantage. In November, the U.S. will attempt to halt a ten year drought, their last victory was in 2000.