Fed Cup 2011 : 5 Things We Learned From The First Round
Even Tom Cruise, Peter Graves, or Steven Hill would have found their first Mission Impossible if they had to play Belgium in the first round of the Fed Cup.
Since the Williams sisters were unavailable to play the tie against the Kim Clijsters team, the hopes for winning were slim.
Of course, team USA played the final of this competition over the last two years also without Serena or Venus. It is nonetheless useful to remember Russia, Serbia, France, Italy, Slovakia, Australia or even the USA have the same level of play when their top player is not playing.
However, it's another story when a confident and experienced player such as Clijsters decides to join the country team.
That's why the World No. 2 and recent Australian Open champion was too good for World No. 61 Melanie Oudin, or World No. 48 Bethanie Mattek-Sands and the reason Belgium crushed the USA 4-1.
Even so, they were 5 lessons to learn from Saturday and Sunday encounters.
1° Melanie Oudin In Search For More Confidence
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2009 US Open quarter-finalist Melanie Oudin is the future of American tennis.
It's impossible to beat players such as Jankovic, Sharapova, Dementieva or Petrova if you don't have special skills. The Georgia native has a tremendous heart and will have much better days to come if she can work on her serve.
When Oudin played Clijsters for their first meeting on Saturday, the American knew she had to play her best tennis. Even if she had done so, the Belgium would have prevailed.
The recent Australian Open champion has more game plans than Oudin.
As a matter of fact, Oudin won only 2 points in the first five games of the first set against the three-time US Open champion.
It's impossible to win a match losing the first set 6-0 against a player such as Clijsters, who is more and more dangerous as the score progresses in her favour.
That means the match is almost over.
The problem for Oudin is that her opponents can play on the weak aspect of her game, the serve.
The 19-year-old's rivals know they can gain free points by returning well, which most of the top 100 players can do.
Even more, Oudin has yet to win a match so far this season. It's not the best way to improve the confidence.
True the American is still young and has time to make improvements in her game.
Oudin is working hard, enjoys the competition. There is no reason why we shouldn't see her play much better this year.
The Georgia native has to defend many points from her semifinal reach in Paris last year, then she won't have the pressure to defend more, since her runs at Indian Wells, Miami, the French, Wimbledon and the US Open were not good.
2° Bethanie Mattek-Sands Close To The Peak Of Her Game
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If might not be the moment to admit Bethanie Mattek-Sands is playing the tennis of her life since Kim Clijsters beat the American 6-7 (10) 6-2 6-1 to give Belgium an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the United States and a place in the Fed Cup semifinals.
However if the 25-year-old could play the same way she did against the World No. 2 for three sets, she would be a top 5 player.
The Phoenix resident is maturing in her game, as she can mix her shots and come forward to the net to finish points.
As a matter of fact, Bethanie is a great volley player and finds ways to play great matches on big stadiums.
Nonetheless, she is not as fit as a Clijsters, which is the reason why she could only keep on playing at the same level for three successive sets against the Australian Open champion.
I would not be surprised to see Bethanie Mattek in the quarter-finals, or even the semi-finals of Wimbledon or the US Open this year if she could work on her fitness more.
3° Kim Clijsters Is The Current World No. 1 Despite What The Standings Show
According to the WTA rulings and the standings from Feb. 7, 2011, Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki is still the World No. 1 player despite Kim Clijsters winning last two majors (The US Open and the Australian Open) and the Masters.
Nevertheless, since Clijsters is playing at the Paris Indoors this week, she will pass Wozniacki on Friday is she can reach the semifinals of the event, which is likely to happen.
Interesting to note also it was an emotionally charged afternoon in Antwerp’s Sports Palace as she not only booked Belgium’s place in the Fed Cup semifinals but also got her hands on a replica trophy for winning the 2001 competition.
Thereafter, it was left to Clijsters to hold court and the way she started against Bethanie Mattek-Sands suggested she might ease Belgium through.
Once Clijsters took control of the second set, there was little doubt that she would ultimately go onto win.
Belgium will take on the Czech Republic in the semifinals.
If Clijsters is still available for this tie, she will have great chances to put her country in a favorable position to win a second Fed Cup title.
4° Sharapova Eyes London
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It's been three years since Maria Sharapova played for team Russia.
The former World No. 1 already admitted wishing to be among the chosen players to represent Russia at the London Olympics.
In order to do so, each players need to be playing at least one match in Fed Cup two years prior the start of the Games.
That's why the three-time Grand Slam champion didn't play her absolute best on Saturday and almost brought the team to a stunning defeat against France.
Then, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova took over for Sharapova on Sunday.
It was the first time that a team had rallied from a 2-0 deficit.
Playing her first Fed Cup match in three years, Sharapova was outplayed by Virginie Razzano on the first day of the two-day competition.
Therefore, the Russian captain turned to the promising Pavlyuchenkova.
The 19-year-old never played a Fed Cup match before this weekend, which proves it was a gutsy bet from Tarpishchev to choose Pavlyuchenkova instead of Safina.
Anastasia responded with winning tennis when defeating Alize Cornet, who was leading by a set and a break before collapsing.
Then it was Svetlana Kuznetsova, who knotted the tie at two matches each, the two teamed to win the decisive doubles match.
The 2004 US Open champion is a great doubles player while France is still in search for a good team.
Russia will now face two-time defending champion Italy at home in the semifinals in April.
Meanwhile, defending champion Italy advanced by crushing Australia 4-1.
5° Farewell Renae Stubbs
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It was not a happy ending for Rennae Stubbs.
The doubles specialist retired from tennis when Australia lost its first-round World Group Fed Cup match to Italy 4-1.
Stubbs had vowed to play on only as long as Australia’s Fed Cup campaign continued.
Jarmila Groth surprised everyone by upsetting Francesca Schiavone to give Australia the first point. It also was the team’s last point.
The veteran won several Major doubles titles and represented Australia at four successive Olympics: Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
Not to forget also that he 39-year-old has won 60 titles with 11 different partners from 1992 to 2010.
The Sydney resident also grabbed two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.
Last but not least, Stubbs won the season-ending Masters in 2001 with regular partner and American Lisa Raymond. The pair were then named ITF World champions.