Tag Archive | "Federation Cup"

The U.S. One Step Closer to Regaining World Group Status

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The U.S. One Step Closer to Regaining World Group Status


In today’s third rubber, Serena Williams validated the adage that “it’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts”. Williams overcame Belarus’ Anastasia Yakimova 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 to clinch a spot for the United States in the World Group II play-offs.

On Saturday, Australian Open reigning champion Victoria Azarenka withdrew from World Group II competition due to a back injury. With the Worchester Massachusetts fans cheering them on, the Americans led by Serena and Christina McHale banked both ties in straight sets to take a 2-0 edge.

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A Tale of Two Seasons:  Serena Starts and Wozniacki Finishes

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A Tale of Two Seasons: Serena Starts and Wozniacki Finishes


Although the familiar saying states “all good things must come to an end”, when it comes to tennis it’s not necessarily the case.  While the 2010 season is over, in the blink of an eye the new one will commence.  Before turning to a fresh chapter, it’s important to reminisce and ponder what made this past year noteworthy.

At her first tournament after rejoining the tour, Justine Henin was a finalist in Brisbane.  The Belgian followed that result with a run to the final at the Australian Open.  In a compelling match, Serena Williams edged out Henin to defend her title and claimed her twelfth career major.  Despite Williams’ conquest, the road to victory was far from routine.  Thus, early indications were Williams would be fighting tooth and nail to retain the number one ranking.  Yet, in the end, injury became Serena’s speed bump rather than her fellow competitors.

Following Australia, a knee injury caused Williams to put her feet up for a few months.  In May, a healthy Serena returned to competition.  Subsequent to being stunned in the French Open quarterfinals, Williams successfully defended her Wimbledon title.  However, days after her triumph, Serena suffered a freakish foot injury.  Initially, the damage seemed inconsequential.  But, as the weeks went by, Serena withdrew from tournament after tournament and underwent surgery.  Ultimately, Wimbledon proved to be Serena’s last event of 2010.

Ironically, Serena’s similar fate befell Henin.  After being booted in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, Henin turned her focus to Wimbledon the underlying reason for her comeback.  With a title at a warm-up tournament before Wimbledon, Henin was a serious contender to capture the sole major which has eluded her. But, after easily carrying the first set against Kim Clijsters, Henin fell on her elbow and eventually loss in the round of 16.  What at first seemed an innocuous tumble prematurely terminated Henin’s year.

After being upended in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open by Na Li, Venus Williams caught a full head of steam and defended back to back titles in Dubai and Acapulco.  Then, Venus made the finals at the Sony Ericsson Open and the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open.  Consequently, Venus’ ranking peaked at number two.  Days after celebrating her 30th birthday,  the five time Wimbledon champion stepped on the grass with high hopes for a sixth crown.  However, in the quarterfinals, Venus was sent packing by Tsvetana Pironkova.  Later at the U.S. Open, Williams watched an opportunity to advance to the final evaporate, going down to Clijsters.  Bothered by a knee issue, after New York, Venus sat out the remainder of the season.

No ifs and or buts, Clijsters is back.  After besting Henin in the Brisbane final, Clijsters rebounded from an early exit at the Australian Open by thrashing Venus in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open.  Although a foot injury prevented Clijsters from participating at the French Open, the following month the Belgian reached the semifinals at Wimbledon.  Subsequent to a sensational win in the final in Cincinnati, Clijsters repeated in New York and earned her third U.S. Open title.  Clijsters capped the year with the number three ranking and the WTA Championships trophy in Doha.

In placing one’s bet at the start of 2010, Maria Sharapova, Henin and Clijsters would have been regarded as the candidates likely to supplant Serena at number one.  Instead, Williams was toppled from that spot by a great Dane.  Last year, as a runner-up at the U.S. Open, Caroline Wozniacki demonstrated that she is a legitimate rival.  With Serena sidelined by injury, Wozniacki scaled up the ranking by winning six tour titles and making the finals in Indian Wells and Doha.

Despite being halted in the round of 16 at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the quarterfinals at the French Open and the semifinals at the U.S. Open, consistency week in and week out was the key to Wozniacki taking over at number one.

Another individual who had a spring in her step in 2010 is Vera Zvonareva. The Russian followed her first major final at Wimbledon with another at the U.S. Open.  Although Zvonareva fell to Serena and Clijsters respectively, because of her phenomenal performance, Zvonareva shot up to the number two ranking.

Other names to come into the spotlight this season include twenty year old Petra Kvitova who stunned Victoria Azarenka and Wozniacki before being knocked out in the Wimbledon semifinals by Serena.  Along with Li, countrywoman Jie Zheng advanced to the semifinals at the Australian Open.  Perhaps the unlikeliest ones to rise above the fray were veterans Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur.

After beating Henin, Serena and Jelena Jankovic at the French Open, 26 year old Stosur booked her maiden major final spot.  With a victory over Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, Schiavone sauntered into the French Open final as a result of Elena Dementieva retiring in the semifinals with a calf injury.  First time major finalist Schiavone took full advantage of her good fortune.  Less than a month prior to her 30th birthday, Schiavone prevailed over Stosur becoming the first Italian woman to win a major.

In doubles, Serena and Venus triumphed in the finals at the Australian and French Opens while Wimbledon and the U.S. Open were claimed by the new pair of Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova.  The number one doubles team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber had an acrimonious divorce in April.  With the break up of Huber and Black and injuries affecting the Williams’, Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko with six titles and the WTA Championships trophy ended the year as the top doubles team.

For the second consecutive year, Italy dismissed the U.S. to take the Federation Cup. Former French Open champion and world number one Ana Ivanovic redeemed her season by pocketing the Tournament of Champions trophy in Bali and reintegrating herself in the top twenty.  Nothing but bad news for former world number one Dinara Safina.  Limited by a back problem, Safina hardly played and finished the year ranked 63rd.

At the WTA championships, Dementieva dropped a bomb announcing her retirement after her last round robin match.  The 2008 Olympic gold medalist and two time major finalist felt at 29 years of age the time had arrived to seal this phase of her life and move on to another.

It is impossible to dissociate 2010 from 2011 with injury already a factor in the year to come.  With her foot still on the mend, Serena proclaimed she will not defend her Australian Open title.  As such, the first major of the year will be up for grabs.  Will Clijsters seize her first major other than the U.S. Open?  Can Wozniacki silence all doubters and show she really belongs at the top spot?  Will Zvonareva draw on the positives from 2010 and take the final step to the major’s winner circle?  Will it be Sharapova or Henin reliving their past success down under?  In contemplating the outcome of the Australian Open, the permutations seem infinite.  With all these questions, the first major portends that the upcoming season will be a fascinating one to follow.

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U.S. Rebound vs. Russia to Advance to Fed Cup Final

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U.S. Rebound vs. Russia to Advance to Fed Cup Final


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.

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USA Blast France In Fed Cup

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USA Blast France In Fed Cup


img_3202_bmExcept for the 2003 final in which France prevailed, the U.S. have owned France in Federation Cup competition. Their twelfth meeting occurred in Lievin, France on clay. The Americans dominated in the first round by winning three successive rubbers to clinch a semifinal spot.

On Saturday, in the first rubber after Bethanie Mattek-Sands jumped to a 2-0 lead, France’s Alize Cornet rolled off five straight games to build a 5-2 edge.  After Mattek-Sands crawled out of a triple break point hole and got to 3-5, she altered her tactics by coming more to the net.  It paid off.   Mattek-Sands broke Cornet as she served for the set.  But, following Mattek-Sands breaking for 6-5, she surrendered the lead at love sending the set to a tiebreaker.  A seesaw tiebreaker was ultimately captured by Mattek-Sands.

In the second set, after Cornet broke in the first game, with a sleuth of errors, she allowed Mattek-Sands to level the set. Then, after neither woman relinquished serve, at 5-6, the errors got the better of Cornet. This resulted in Mattek-Sands carrying the initial rubber 7-6,7-5.  Cornet’s record now stands at 0-6 in Fed Cup play.

The second match featured Melanie Oudin against Pauline Parmentier.  Oudin drew first blood in taking a 3-2 lead.  Subsequent to Oudin easily consolidating, Parmentier had 0-30 on Oudin’s serve on various occasions, however, each time the American halted the Frenchwoman.  Oudin took the first set 6-4.

In the second set, Oudin finally capitalized on a couple break point opportunities and went ahead 2-1.  Yet, on double break point, Oudin double faulted squaring the set at 2 all. After netting a forehand, Oudin faced triple break point.  Still, the teenager delivered to arrive at 3 all.  Then, with Parmentier serving at 4 all and 40-0, Oudin applied pressure on the second serve and got to deuce.  Subsequently, with a forehand return winner, Oudin had a second break point.  Oudin converted when Parmentier misfired on a backhand crosscourt.  Afterwards, Oudin kept her composure despite a tough game and closed out the match 6-4,6-4.

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Reflections on WTA 2009

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Reflections on WTA 2009


img_1710It’s that time of year when we look back at what transpired on the women’s tour over the past season and view ahead at the upcoming year.  Here’s a recap of the great, the good and the down right ugly moments from 2009.

Last year, in many respects, can be characterized as bizarre. The majors commenced with a meltdown by Dinara Safina as Serena Williams thrashed her in the Australian Open final.  Months later after sensational results at lead up tournaments, Safina, newly crowned world number one, had another breakdown in the French Open final vis-à-vis Svetlana Kuznetsova.  As such, Kuznetsova grabbed the second major of her career.

At the All England Club, after Serena survived a riveting semifinal match against Elena Dementieva, she faced Venus in the finals for the second consecutive year.  However, this go around, Serena bested big sister to capture 2009′s third major.  Also a favorite to step to the finals at the U.S. Open, Serena encountered two stumbling blocks, her emotions and  Kim Clijsters.

After fulfilling her desire to procreate, Clijsters discovered that her retreat from tennis had left a void.  Thus, following a two year absence, Clijsters once again embraced the game. Subsequent to some impressive triumphs, Clijsters took on Serena in the semifinals. The weather may have been in part culpable, more likely though, it was Clijsters’ superb touch that got under Serena’s skin as a foot fault by a line judge roused Serena’s anger.  Unsavory words by Serena caused a point penalty with Clijsters having match point.  A day later, Clijsters went on to rope the U.S. Open trophy, the second major of her career.

Leading the pack of names that captivated the tour in 2009 is Dane Caroline Wozniacki.  The teenager became her country’s first competitor to reach a major final. Although downed by Clijsters, after starting the year in the top 20, Wozniacki closed 2009 at number 4.  Belarusian Victoria Azarenka continued her march in the right direction.  Azarenka demolished Serena at the Sony Ericsson Open to catch the biggest title of her career.

On the other hand, for the Serbs, it was  a year of sliding backward. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion and former world number one, had trouble directing her forehand and serve. With neither stroke on the money, Ivanovic did not get pass the fourth round at any of the majors. Ivanovic reached one final, Indian Wells, but failed to hoist the trophy. Fed up, Ivanovic put a punctuation to her season in October and her ranking tumbled to 21st.  Number one at the start of the year, Jelena Jankovic, fared a little better than Ivanovic by collecting two titles.  However, Jankovic was equally a disappointment at the majors with only a round of 16 appearance in Paris and Melbourne.

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USA Squeaks By Argentina For Semifinal Spot In Federation Cup


With the top U.S. players, Serena and Venus Williams, unavailable for the first round of Federation Cup, new captain Mary Joe Fernandez was dealt an impossible hand. With a team comprised of 34-year-old Jill Craybas and 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, ranked 151 in singles and making her debut, the U.S. was in an unenviable position versus Argentina. However, in Surprise, Arizona, Oudin proved to be the best of all surprises.

As a clamorous crowd cheered on, Oudin won Sunday’s second rubber to push the event into a fifth match. As it came down to the wire, Liezel Huber, doubles world number one and recently naturalized citizen, and Julie Ditty pulled off a 6-2, 6-3 victory for the U.S. to move on to the semifinals.

In the first match on Saturday, Craybas defeated her 20-year-old Betina Jozami 6-2, 6-1 to give the Americans a leg up. After starting out poorly, Craybas quickly recovered. Craybas’ years of accumulated knowledge was the difference, as she won her first Fed Cup match on home soil. Similarly, in the second rubber, Gisela Dulko at 24, a tour veteran, utilized her experience to beat Oudin in straight sets 6-2, 7-5. After being blown away in the first set, Oudin saved match point and broke in the second to tie it at 5 all. But, the next game, Oudin lost her serve. Dulko shut out the set with a love game. So, the first day, the teams split the two rubbers.

In Sunday’s first rubber, on paper, it was an excellent match-up for the Americans because of Craybas’ great record against Dulko. Yet, in the first set, Craybas, bitten by the unforced error bug, let Dulko cruise through. Then, in the second set, Craybas went down an early break at 1-4 and never caught up. With a well-angled backhand volley winner, Dulko extended her lead to 5-2 and closed out the match with a crosscourt forehand pass. With a 6-1, 6-3 victory, Dulko gave Argentina a 2-1 lead.

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Russia Sinks Spanish Armada To Claim Second Straight Federation Cup


Russia torpedoed Spain’s hope for a Federation Cup trophy by convincingly winning all four matches in the finals to defend its title in Madrid, Spain.

Saturday’s first rubber featured Russian Vera Zvonareva against Anabel Medina Garrigues, Spain’s top ranked singles player. After putting Garrigues on the defensive and making some spectacular forehand passes, Zvonareva built a 3-0 lead. But, the Russian committed several unforced errors, inviting Garrigues back in the match 3-2. Yet, after leading in her service game 40-15, Garrigues produced two miscues on the forehand and crosscourt backhand to let Russia gain the upper hand 4-2. Then, with a forehand down the line, Zvonareva secured the first set 6-3.

After taking a 2-0 lead in the second set, Zvonareva played two back-to-back poor service games and relinquished a break to Spain 2-4. Nevertheless, aided by Garrigues’ own misfiring, Zvonareva connected on a crosscourt forehand winner to get back on serve 3-4. Subsequently, Zvonareva pressured her opponent resulting in unforced errors to regain the break advantage. Ultimately, Zvonareva easily closed out the first rubber with a forehand crosscourt winner 6-4.

The second rubber between Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro and Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova gave the home team even less to cheer. The first game set the tone with Navarro broken at love. Navarro attempted to mix things up by coming to net, but her backhand repeatedly failed her resulting in Russia building a 4-0 advantage. With a forehand crosscourt winner, Kuznetsova took the first set 6-3. Using her weighty groundstrokes and versatility, Kuznetsova bullied Navarro to effortlessly win the second set 6-1 and give Russia a two match lead going into Sunday.

On Sunday, Garrigues faced Kuznetsova in the initial match. After racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set, Kuznetsova’s game went on a walkabout allowing Garrigues to comeback. Garrigues fought off five set points against her serve before prevailing 7-5. But, the home team’s elation was short-lived as Kuznetsova produced a forehand down the line winner to break 5-3 in the second set then served two aces to seal the set 6-3. In the third set, Russia got a prompt break thanks to multiple unforced errors from Spain. However, Spanish hope was rekindled when Garrigues forced an error from Kuznetsova to level things at 3-3. Yet, with a sensational drop shot Kuznetsova got the break right back 4-3. Eventually, Kuznetsova hung on to serve out the match with a strong game and clinched another Federation trophy for Russia 6-4.

The fourth rubber featuring doubles play was a technicality. Once again, the Russian team mowed over its Spanish counterpart, who looked out of sorts, with crisp volleys and strong groundstrokes 6-2, 6-1. This represents Russia’s fourth title in five years.

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Russia Rolls Over The US In Federation Cup Semifinal, Next Stop Spain


The red clay in Moscow was the venue for the Federation Cup semifinal played on April 26-27 between Russia and the US. The setting, the surface and the inexperience of the US team meant that Russia was in the driver’s seat from the getgo. Despite being crippled, the athletes and Captain Zina Garrison admirably represented the stars and stripes. Regrettably, the Americans’ effort fell short, as Russia moved on to the finals for the second straight year and will attempt to win its fourth cup in five years.

Day one was a repeat of last year’s semifinal with Anna Chakvetadze, ranked 7 in the world, taking on Vania King, ranked 111. With Chakvetadze struggling this year, this was possibly the best chance the US had to move into the lead. Although King played well and left it all out on the court, ultimately, the Russian’s experience helped her overcome the rough patches. Chakvetadze won 6-4, 7-5. The second match was an exercise in calisthenics as Svetlava Kuznetsova rolled over Ahsha Rolle 6-2, 6-1. The following day, Vera Zvonareva clinched the team’s spot into the finals by beating Vania King in three tough fought sets 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Nevertheless, more tennis was to come since there is a mandatory five matches fulfillment . In the fourth rubber, Rolle got the better of Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-4, while the doubles team of Liezel Huber and King won the last one 7-6, 6-4.

This marks the second year in a row that the Russians blocked The US’ path to the finals. The last year the Americans won this trophy was 2000. Unless top ranked players are willing to dedicate their time to this endeavor, the American team will always be handicapped prior to even striking a single ball, particularly when facing titans such as Russia. As Marie-Joe Fernandez replaces Garrison as coach next year, there is ample work to be done if the Federation Cup is to be rerouted to these parts.

Russia will battle Spain in the finals in September. In spite of having to perform in front of a hostile crowd and without its key players, the Spaniards overwhelmed China, winning four out of five matches. With the Russians having a plethora of leading competitors to choose from, indubitably they will be the favorites. Nonetheless, with the tournament taking place in Spain, home court advantage cannot be discounted. Undisputedly, the boisterous Spanish fans will attempt to help the home team carry the day.

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