Saturday, February 02, 2008

Who Cares About Fed Cup?

Lindsay Davenport does. Which is why her listless and erratic performance against Sabine Lisicki in the first rubber of the USA v. Germany tie today, a match she was certainly favored to win, was difficult to watch.

But that's Fed Cup. Where anything can happen and anything did. Lindsay lost 1-6, 5-7.

For her part, the 18-year-old German making her Fed Cup debut played a great match. She followed up her third-round outing at the Australian Open, complete with an upset over Dinara Safina in the first round, with a great performance on American soil. Her first serve was tough to read, her groundstrokes precise, her attitude on full display. One fan called her a cheerleader. I called her a drill team sergeant. She had Lindsay, who'd never played her before, miffed and on her back foot throughout the entire match.

The teen's biggest weakness was her second serve. She offered up 11 double faults, 4 in the fifth game of the second set when she gave up her only break of the match. But like a drill team sergeant with attitude, she rebounded to win the last five games of the match and leave the veteran American with a bit of egg on her face as she lost her first Fed Cup match in, well... forever.

Ashley Harkleroad cares about Fed Cup, too. After captain Zina Garrison emailed her to tell her she was on the team, she was honored and called her parents right away to tell them of her good fortune.

And she carried herself on-court as if she had no care in the world. In her own Fed Cup debut, she was fearless, poised, composed and precise, picking apart the awkward game of Tatjana Malek with a 6-1, 6-3 rout.

Pebbles, a nickname given her from her Flintstone, Georgia roots, moves so well that even against power players (not that Malek is a power player) she gives herself a chance. But she doesn't just rely on defense. She knows how to construct points and end them. Even at the net if called for. What she lacks in power she makes up for in craft. I've always liked her. And I was reminded today of her few great performances on big stages before her retirement in 2004. Indian Wells was the first place she made her mark, and that tournament rapidly approaches.

But till then, she can remind tennis enthusiasts who she is if she can compete well tomorrow in reverse singles and make Lisicki feel the pressure that Lindsay, almost shockingly, could not.

Maria Sharapova cares about Fed Cup as well. I think. She's never managed to bring herself to play it before, but with the Olympics just around the corner...

Tennis Channel, which is where I was able to watch the USA tie, also aired the Israel vs. Russia tie live in the wee hours of the morning. I never saw anything quite like it.

The tennis itself was unbearable. Against Dinara Safina, Shahar Pe'er lost the first 6 games of the first rubber and won the last 6. Maria Sharapova routed Tzipi Obziler 6-0, 6-4.

But the crowd provided all the drama. Really. They were roudy and clapped and whistled and cheered and booed at all the wrong times. On first serve faults and even while the ball was in play. And they went after Maria like she had robbed their mothers.

But I must say, the Australian Open champion brought it on herself. Yup. She pulled a Justine Henin, circa Australian Open 2004. If you remember the final in which she made an out call on a break point deep in the decisive set against Kim Clijsters and Sandra de Jenken gave her the call on an overall. If you don't remember, well... here it is.

Yes. Maria had her Justine moment. In the second set, fully in control of the match, but beginning to crack a bit as the finish line approached, Maria faced her first break point. After an extended rally, a Sharapova forehand clipped the net cord and landed short in the court. Obziler chased it down and bunted a forehand volley that clipped the back of the line. The Israeli pumped her fist. The crowd erupted.

But Maria made an appeal, index finger up, just like Justine, to the chair umpire, the infamous Mariana Alves of the Serena Williams US Open 2004 quarterfinal debacle. True to form, the disgraceful umpire overruled the call in the midst of all the noise. Deuce. When the crowd figured out what happened, it took a minute, it booed for several more. During the next three points, every time Maria struck a groundstroke, the crowd, in unison, shrieked right along with Maria.

I'd never seen anything like it. And I couldn't stop laughing. Not even after the Isreali captain took the umpire's microphone and told them to cut it out. I mean really. To hear Maria's shriek amplified by the crowd's chorus was one of those unexpected moments I'll never forget.

Some say the crowd was wrong. Perhaps. But it's Fed Cup, so it's to be expected. I've seen worse behavior from crowds in Flushing Meadows and Madrid, but that's a whole other story and we aren't going there right now.

In this situation, I think the crowd wasn't going to give Maria a pass for what it obviously perceived as cheating. Whether it was or not is beside the point. The crowd seemed to think it was and they went after Maria for it.

But Maria didn't care. Don't let the blond hair and blue eyes and femme glamor fool you. She's as butch as a lumberjack and she will cut you. Even eat your babies. Pick and suck her teeth afterwards right to your face. On this day, she pumped her fists, yelled her "C'mons!", never stopped her shrieking and won the match in spite of her "tactics" and the disdain of the fans.

People who make their beds know how to lie in them. Comfortably.

Tomorrow's rubbers ought to be interesting.


ISRAEL level with RUSSIA 1-1
Venue: Canada Stadium, Ramat Hasharon, Israel (hard - outdoors)

Shahar Peer (ISR) d. Dinara Safina (RUS) 06 62 62
Maria Sharapova (RUS) d. Tzipi Obziler (ISR) 60 64
Shahar Peer (ISR) v Maria Sharapova (RUS)
Tzipi Obziler (ISR) v Dinara Safina (RUS)
Tzipi Obziler/Shahar Peer (ISR) v Anna Chakvetadze/Elena Vesnina (RUS)

USA level with GERMANY 1-1
Venue: La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, La Jolla, CA, USA (hard - outdoors)

Sabine Lisicki (GER) d. Lindsay Davenport (USA) 61 75
Ashley Harkleroad (USA) d. Tatjana Malek (GER) 61 63
Lindsay Davenport (USA) v Tatjana Malek (GER)
Ashley Harkleroad (USA) v Sabine Lisicki (GER)
Lisa Raymond/Lindsay Davenport (USA) v Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Julia Georges (GER)

CHINA, P.R. leads FRANCE 2-0
Venue: Beijing International Tennis Centre, Beijing, China, P.R. (hard – indoors)

Na Li (CHN) d. Alize Cornet (FRA) 63 61
Shuai Peng (CHN) d. Virginie Razzano (FRA) 46 63 64
Na Li (CHN) v Virginie Razzano (FRA)
Shuai Peng (CHN) v Alize Cornet (FRA)
Zi Yan/Jie Zheng (CHN) v Nathalie Dechy/Virginie Razzano (FRA)

SPAIN leads ITALY 2-0
Venue: PalaVesuvio, Naples, Italy (hard - indoors)

Nuria Llagostera Vives (ESP) d. Francesca Schiavone (ITA) 76(4) 36 62
Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP) d. Flavia Pennetta (ITA) 62 63
Francesca Schiavone (ITA) v Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP)
Flavia Pennetta (ITA) v Nuria Llagostera Vives (ESP)
Sara Errani/Tathiana Garbin (ITA) v Lourdes Dominguez-Lino/Carla Suarez-Navarro (ESP)


UKRAINE level with BELGIUM 1-1
Venue: Palace of Sports "Lokomotiv", Kharkov, Ukraine (clay - indoors)

Alona Bondarenko (UKR) d. Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) 61 62
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. Katerina Bondarenko (UKR) 76(5) 61
Alona Bondarenko (UKR) v Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)
Katerina Bondarenko (UKR) v Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
Mariya Koryttseva/Tetyana Perebiynis (UKR) v Tamaryn Hendler/Caroline Maes (BEL)

JAPAN level with CROATIA 1-1
Venue: Beans Dome, Mikishi, Japan (hard - indoors)

Akiko Morigami (JPN) d. Nika Ozegovic (CRO) 26 75 61
Jelena Kostanic Tosic (CRO) d. Aiko Nakamura (JPN) 63 36 63
Akiko Morigami (JPN) v Jelena Kostanic Tosic (CRO)
Aiko Nakamura (JPN) v Nika Ozegovic (CRO)
Rika Fujiwara/Ayumi Morita (JPN) v Jelena Kostanic Tosic/Ana Vrljic (CRO)

Venue: Brno Exhibition Centre, Brno, Czech Republic (carpet - indoors)

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) d. Petra Cetkovska (CZE) 75 63
Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) d. Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) 75 64
Nicole Vaidisova (CZE) v Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
Petra Cetkovska (CZE) v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)
Iveta Benesova/Kveta Peschke (CZE) v Dominika Cibulkova/Janette Husarova (SVK)

ARGENTINA level with AUSTRIA 1-1
Venue: Estadio Parque Roca, Buenos Aires, Argentina (clay - outdoors)

Jorgelina Cravero (ARG) d. Yvonne Meusberger (AUT) 76(4) 63
Melanie Klaffner (AUT) d. Maria Emilia Salerni (ARG) 26 63 75
Maria Emilia Salerni (ARG) v Yvonne Meusberger (AUT)
Jorgelina Cravero (ARG) v Melanie Klaffner (AUT)
Maria Irigoyen/Betina Jozami (ARG) v Patricia Mayr/Barbara Schwartz (AUT)

For full coverage, go to the Fed Cup official website.


MMT said...

Clip of the crowd impersonations of Sharapova.

MMT said...

Clip of the Henin - Clijsters incident in 2004.

tangerine said...

Here's the video of Anna Chak getting into it with the crowd.

I think the Russians handled themselves quite well against such a hostile crowd.

Vlad said...

Couple things to add that Craig did not mention (or mentioned incorrectly)

1. Maria had first breakpoint against her serve at 3-0, serving in second set

2. That incident happened at 4-1, serving when she was breakpoint down.

3. When Obziler got to deuce at 3-0 second set, the crowd began to erupt and interrupt. The started cheering against her first serve faults, during rallies, when she hit out, etc, etc.

4. Arguing about a call is NOT a cheating in any way, shape or form as much as some people like to say so. And btw, she did not immediately showed the ball was out. She looked at the mark, and only then showed she thought the ball was out. Therefore, the core of the whole incident had NOTHING to do about Justine's incident in the first place.

Vlad said...

I also think (and its just IMO) that Maria would not even argue about it in the first place, had the crowd behaved normally after 3-0. They, on the other hand simply DID NOT allow her to play for no reason whatsoever, except that Obziler started to get into Maria's games and they felt she maybe had chance to make it closer match.

What happened after that overrule, was simply out of line for any Fed Cup or Davis Cup match. I have never seen anything like it (and I've seen a lot of DC ties in Chile, Argentine, etc.).

On that Craig, I strongly disagree with you. The crowd went beyond anything that is acceptable during tennis match.

Vlad said...

Now, on a good note, Congratulation to team USA and especially to Ashley!

She stepped it up and lead her team to victory.