The Fed Cup drama continued on deciding Day 2, with two World Group ties being extended to a live fifth rubber and last year’s finalists showing off their dominance.
Question # 1: Do you prefer the Davis Cup format, with doubles in the middle position, or Fed Cup, where it’s either an irrelevant “dead” rubber or the clincher?
Russia def. Serbia 3-2 in Serbia
In possibly the most dramatic World Group tie of the weekend, Jelena Jankovic played hero for the home crowd even though her team lost. After coming back from a set and 1-4 down to win her match vs. Kleybanova on Saturday, she started – and finished – strong in Sunday’s third rubber against Svetlana Kuznetsova, beating the World No. 4 in three sets: 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Ana Ivanovic was up next vs. Alisa Kleybanova with a chance to clinch it for Serbia. But she was unable to take advantage of her team’s momentum and lost the match in straights: 2-6, 3-6. Ana was back on court a half hour later – she mentioned not having time to even grab a snack – to join Jankovic for the deciding doubles rubber. Ana’s opponent was back, too, Kleybanova pairing with Kuznetsova when captain Shamil Tarpischev decided to substitute his top stars for the team of Vesnina/Pavlyuchenkova. His leading ladies didn’t disappoint. Team Russia beat Team Serbia 6-1, 6-4 in the final rubber and booked a spot in the semis vs. Team USA in the States.
This was another upsetting development for Ivanovic fans, who moaned on as Ana failed to win a single point for her team, despite three chances. Question # 2: Will Ivanovic end the year ranked higher or lower than her current place at #23?
Well, not everyone was in a bad mood:
Things are looking up for Jelena Jankovic, however. She proved to herself and the critics this weekend that she is still capable of performing under pressure and playing aggressively when necessary.
J.J. deserved this victory lap, however premature (sorry for the crappy footage):
Czech Republic def Germany 3-2 in Czech Republic
Anna-Lena Groenefeld played the role of J.J. on Team Germany, winning both her singles matches – including a three setter versus Petra Kvitova on Sunday – but not having enough in the tank to push through the deciding doubles match with her partner. Fed Cup ingenue Lucie Hradecka was the hero at home on Sunday, replacing the higher ranked but feverish Lucie (Safarova) and winning both the third rubber vs. Andrea Petkovic and helping doubles specialist Kveta Peschke clinch the win in the doubles.
USA def. France 4-1 in France
Melanie Oudin took to court against Julie Coin, who was substituted for Fed Cup failure Alize Cornet in the third rubber on Sunday. The first set was tight, with Melanie feeling the pressure to clinch the tie, but she was strong mentally, playing a strong first set tie-break that relaxed her to a straight sets win and a semifinal spot for her team. I was watching this match and was really impressed with her poise and her smarts in both constructing points and waiting for her chances on the red clay.
Melanie, who is going straight to Paris from Lievin to participate in this coming week’s Paris Open (she’ll play Cirstea in the first round), says that leading Team USA to the Fed Cup semis was a big boost for her: “This is definitely, mentally, a good two matches for me – getting through the tight situations and having to play well under pressure because lately I haven’t been able to do that.”
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez thinks Oudin will benefit from these wins: “I’m hoping she’s going to pick up some confidence from winning these pressure matches. . .She needs a little boost to get back on track and she did great this weekend. . I think she’ll get back to what we saw (from her) in the middle of last year.”
Question #3: Will Melanie make it to the second week of Roland Garros this year?
I love how stressed out Amelie Mauresmo looks in this photo – and she’s arriving at Fed Cup as a spectator!
Italy def. Ukraine 4-1 in Ukraine
The defending champs were tied at 1-1 going into the second day, and Flavia Pennetta was hanging on by a thread in the third rubber vs. Alona Bondarenko. A-Bond served for both the first and second sets, but was foiled each time by Flavia, who played her best tennis when she was behind but still managed to win the match 7-5 , 7-6(3). Ahead in the tie for the first time, it was up to Francesca Schiavone to seal the deal for Italia. She faltered in her first set vs. Kateryna Bondarenko, appearing poised to suffer her second straight sets defeat of the weekend, but rallied to win in three and guarantee her team a spot in the semis.
A bit of happy gossip – Alona Bondarenko plans to wed her hitting partner and former ATP Pro Nikolay Dyachok this summer, reports FedCup.com. Question #4: Can anyone find a photo of Mr. A-Bond?
The Fed Cup semifinals will be played on April 24 – 25 and will feature:
U.S.A. vs. Russia at U.S.A. (Questions #5 and #6: Will the Williams sisters play? Will Maria?)
Czech Republic vs. Italy in Italy
World Group II Results
Australia def Spain 3 – 2: Both teams were stocked with great talent. In the end, the tie went down to the doubles with Stubbs/Stosur relishing their roles as pinch hitters. Special props to Stosur for winning three rubbers in one weekend.
Belgium def Poland 3 – 2: Kudos to Yanina Wickmayer for winning both her matches, including one over Agnieszka Radwanska.
Estonia def Argentina 4 – 1: Argentina didn’t have Dulko and Estonia had Kaia Kanepi. That pretty much explains it.
Slovak Republic def China 3 – 2: Cibulkova and Hantuchova led the Slovak Republic to victory against a Fed Cup team with only three players on it – and none of these Chinese players were named Zheng Jie or Li Na.
World Group II first round winners (Australia, Belgium, Estonia and the Slovak Republic), will play World Group first-round losers (Serbia, France, Ukraine and Germany) for spots in next year’s top World Group.
Question #7: Will the Belgians win the Cup in 2011, the team packed with Clijsters, Henin and Wickmayer? A Williams sister vs. Belgian Fed Cup final? Question #8: Am I delusional or just touchingly optimistic?
Visit FedCup.com for more info.