Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pliskova and Bencic shine in Fed Cup World Group play

Karolina Pliskova seemed nothing if not an avatar of (a former) Petra Kvitova this weekend in Romania. Pliskova has continued to disappoint in majors, but has become a deadly force in Fed Cup--kind of like Kvitova used to be. This weekend, she had to win both of her singles rubber and a double rubber in order for defending Fed Cup champion Czech Republic to advance to the semifinals. No problem. Pliskova defeated both Simona Halep and Monica Niculescu (though Niculescu made it a very tough job), then teamed with Barbora Strycova to win the deciding doubles contest against Romania. This was, you'll recall, the doubles team that finished off Russia in last year's final.

Once again, Lucie Safarova was absent. Safarova, a key member of the Czech team, is still recovering from a lengthy illness. Team leader Petra Kvitova was there, but that didn't help the Czech Republic. Kvitova lost on day one to the tricky Niculescu, and on day two, she lost to Halep (Kvitova is now 0-3 against Halep).

Also showing the old guard that the "new guard" can handle things, Belinda Bencic won both of her singles rubbers against Germany, and also her doubles rubber. Of course, in doubles, she had some help from legendary doubles competitor Martina Hingis. In singles, Bencic defeated both Andrea Petkovic and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, both in straight sets. Kerber defeated Timea Bacsinskzy. On day 2, Annika Beck was put in to substitute for Petkovic, and she also defeated Bacsinszky in a memorable performance.

The Swiss doubles team took their country to the semifinals with a victory over Petkovic and Anna-Lena Groenefeld. Switzerland will play the Czech Republic in the semifinals.

For the second straight year, France drew Italy in the first round of Fed Cup, and for the second straight year, France beat Italy. Caroline Garcia won both of her singles rubbers, defeating Sara Errani and Camila Giorgia. Kiki Mladenovic--who either serves brilliantly or double-faults--rode a kind of roller coaster in her service game against Giorgi, and it cost her. Despite tearing through the first set 6-1, Mladenovic lost the match. In her singles rubber against Errani, Mladenovic was much more conservative in her serving game, and won the match.

Italy, of course, is a four-time Fed Cup champion. But gone is the doubles team of Errani and Vinci, and gone is the Queen of Fed Cup, Flavia Pennetta. France won even the dead doubles rubber.

Next for Captain Amelie Mauresmo's upstart team is The Netherlands, the latest giant-killers on the Fed Cup scene.

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