Sunday, February 8, 2015

Amelie Mauresmo, Fed Cup genius

Last April, France had to play a better-than average USA team in the Fed Cup semifnals, but things didn't go as planned for the French. Kiki Mladenovic, the team's doubles wonder, had to pull out of the competition because of an arm injury. And on the first day of competition, France's top-ranked player, Alize Cornet, sustained a leg injury and had to be replaced by Virginie Razzano.

The two teams went into the second day tied at 1-1 Sloane Stephens had lost to Caroline Garcia, and Madison Keys had beaten Cornet. On day 2, Stephens beat Razzano, then Garcia, who was playing in her first Fed Cup tie, defeated Keys. Just like that. At 2-2, the teams went into the deciding doubles rubber minus Mladenovic. Garcia teamed with Razzano, and beat Keys and Stephens in straight sets.

Problem solved.

This weekend, Mauresmo and her team had an even bigger problem to solve. At the end of the first day of World Group play, France found itself down 0-2 to Italy. In the history of Fed Cup, France had never come back from an 0-2 deficit to win the tie. Sara Errani had beaten Garcia in a very close match, and Camila Giorgi had beaten Cornet. Facing France on the second day were the very tough world number 13 Errani, the Pennetta-like Giorigi, and the world's number 1 doubles team.

What do you do when faced with an overwhelming problem like that? Pick the brain of Amelie Mauresmo, who went about re-arranging the board pieces and putting her faith in that often-killer doubles team known as Mladenovic and Anybody.

In the first order of the day, Mladenovic--substituted for Cornet--took care of Errani in straight sets. After that, Garcia defeated Giorgi (because someone has to win, even when two mental roller coaster players like these play) 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

On to doubles, and in this case, the "Anybody" part of the Mladenovic team was Garcia, and did she ever rise to the occasion. The French pair proceeded to run over Errani and Vinci 6-1, 6-2. They got a bit nervous toward the end, but then they got the job done.

There is a sad footnote to this tie: Going into it, Roberta Vinci had a perfect Fed Cup doubles record. I always thought she would retire with that perfect record, but as of now, she's 18-1.

Yesterday, the drama was provided by Germany's Andrea Petkovic, and while everything else was overshadowed by France's stunning comeback, much of today's drama was delivered by Petko. Yesterday, she went three hours and 16 minutes to beat Sam Stosur 6-4, 3-6, 12-10. Today, she went an hour and 57 minutes to defeat Jarmila Gajdosova 6-3, 3-6, 8-6. And all this coming from a woman who looked like she couldn't even win a bingo game in 2015.

Germany won the dead doubles rubber 6-7, 7-6, 10-6, so--using the ridiculous ITF Fed Cup scoring system--they were 4-1 against Australia (in the world of reality, they were 3-1).

Russia went 4-0 against Poland, and the Czech Republic went 3-0 against Canada, with both Karolina Pliskova and Tereza Smitkova winning their rubbers in straight sets.

In World Group II, The Netherlands defeated the Slovak Republic 4-1, Switzerland defeated Sweden 3-1, and the USA defeated Argentina 4-1.

The most interesting of this group was Romania's 3-2 victory over Spain. Simona Halep dropped her rubber against Garbine Muguruza, and with Irina-Camelia Begu's loss to Muguruza the day before, Romania was down 1-2 when play began today. Begu went on to beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa, and then Begu and Monica Niculescu defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues and Muguruza in the deciding doubles rubber. Who saw that coming?

When World Group play resumes in April, the Czech Republic will play France, and Russia will play Germany. In the World Group II semifinals, The Netherlands will face Romania, and Switzerland will compete against the USA. If everyone stays healthy, one assumes that the Swiss team will again feature Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic.

If the semifinals are as thrilling as the first tie was, get ready!


Sabey said...

The best thing about Fed Cup was seeing all the female coaches in action this weekend!
I wonder why Myskina is not coaching on a regular basis.

Diane said...

She may be too busy. Is she still a big TV star in Russia? I haven't kept up.