Saturday, January 29, 2011

Some drama built in to upcoming Fed Cup matches

One thing that's nice about this time of year, tennis-wise, is that before you can suffer a post-Australian Open letdown, Fed Cup has arrived. The season's first Fed Cup matches will be played next weekend, and there are already some scenarios that have potential drama.

For one thing, defending champion Italy has some tough World Group quarterfinal competition: The winning combination of Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani, and Roberta Vinci face Australia, in Hobart. Representing Australia will be Sam Stosur, Jarmila Groth, Anastasia Rodionova, and Rennae Stubbs. And I know people say "I'll believe it when I see it," but I do believe that this Fed Cup quarterfinal will be Stubbs' last appearance as a professional tennis player (more on that at a later date). That in itself is dramatic enough. (There was a nice tribute paid to her in Melbourne.) Both she and Rodionova are very good doubles players, so--if it comes down to doubles--there may be some excitement.

Then there is the matter of the Belgian team, which just lost one of its key members when Justine Henin retired from tennis. Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters is scheduled to play, but one couldn't blame her if she were a bit tired. Joining her will be Yanina Wickmayer, Kirsten Flipkens and Australian Open junior girls champion An-Sophie Mestach. The Belgians' opponent will be team USA, which is comprised of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin, Vania King, and Liezel Huber. Mattek-Sands, King and Huber excel in doubles, and Mattek-Sands has served the USA team well as a Fed Cup singles player.

The Serbian team, which is competing in the World Group II first round, will play without two of its strongest players, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. Bojana Jovanovski will be on hand, however, to compete against Canada, and fans can look forward to the probability that Jovanovski will play Rebecca Marino.

A World Group quarterfinal I'd like to see (but won't be able to) is the one that will be played between the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. Daniela Hantuchova, Dominika Cibulkova, Petra Kvitova, and Lucie Safarova will all be in Bratislova, and Kveta Peschke and Barbora Zahlavova and Kveta Peschke will doubtless make a formidable doubles team.

The Russian team, which is part of World Group I (and will play France), consists of Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Dinara Safina. I would say that some some drama is definite built into that lineup.