By Barry Millns in Stuttgart
Perhaps it had something to do with the freezing weather conditions in Stuttgart, but Thursday night’s official dinner for the Fed Cup tie between Germany and the defending champions was a little different from the normal and rather heart-warming.
Firstly, in case anyone attending was still suffering from jet-lag after journeying from the Australian Open, they weren’t hallucinating when they arrived at the dinner venue – the Schlachthof Café in the city’s Schweinemuseaum – to be greeted by a giant-sized pig.
Once inside the restaurant, brimming with all kinds of porker pictures and memorabilia, the two teams and VIP diners, including ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti, were treated to a delicious four-course meal.
And following the round of speeches including plenty of humour from Czech captain Petr Pala (who said he had enjoyed sampling the local brew beforehand when opposite number Barbara Rittner had told him no speech would be required) the traditional swapping of gifts produced a charming surprise for the German players…tennis puppets.
Just what the Czechs meant by such gifts one can only imagine, but we wait eagerly to see exactly who will be pulling the strings on court over the weekend.
Oops - Snowball smack in the face
By Daniella Matar in Biella
Children across Italy are reveling in the snow, so why shouldn’t world class tennis players?
Some of the worst weather in nearly 30 years has hit northern Italy and the streets of picturesque Biella, where the Italy v Ukraine Fed Cup tie is taking place, are covered in snow.
So what do you do if you’re Flavia Pennetta, leaving the City Hall where the draw took place today? Why, throw a snowball at a team-mate, of course. Unfortunately for the world No. 22, Francesca Schiavone was aware of the danger and Italy’s No. 1 ducked out of the way.
However, the mayor of Biella wasn’t so quick on his feet and the snowball hit him full on the face, much to the amusement of other onlooking dignitaries. Luckily, Donato Gentile saw the funny side and joined in the laughter - much to Pennetta’s relief!
Cold weather offers warm welcome for Australia
By Clive White in Fribourg
With an overall rankings discrepancy of 1,428 places compared to the Australian team it ought to be Switzerland who are shivering in their boots at the prospect of this Fed Cup tie in Fribourg, Switzerland.
But actually if there is any shivering to be done it is by Sam Stosur and her teammates who have had to contend with a 50-degree swing in temperature since stepping off the plane from Oz this week.
No wonder Jarmila Gajdosova, the Australian No. 2, felt obliged to apologise for the cold hand she extended to this ITF journalist. “The last time I saw snow was about 10 years ago,” she said. “It’s a bit different. We don’t have many warm clothes so I had to go shopping.”
In which case she must have been grateful for the hotel gift she found waiting her hotel room on arrival – a small hot water bottle! “It’s exciting to see the snow again but I prefer the heat, that’s for sure,” she said.
Australia will no doubt be turning up the heat on Switzerland once the tie gets under way, Stosur, who opens against Timea Bacsinszky, has just had a summer she would rather forget back home. So, Europe, even with its adverse weather conditions, is almost a welcome relief to her.
The US Open champion won just one match in four Down Under before going out of the Australian Open in the first round, something she hadn’t done since losing to Amelie Mauresmo seven years ago.
Not that they’re the whinging type, but just in case the Australians are thinking of complaining about the weather they should first spare a thought for the inhabitants of La Chaux de Fond, a small village near Neuchatel, where a record temperature of minus 41-degrees was recorded this week.
No mechanics at this hall
By Sandra Harwitt in Worcester
One of the more enticing Fed Cup ties this weekend is taking place between USA and Belarus in Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester, the second largest city to Boston in the New England part of the United States, is playing host to three of the biggest stars in the game – No. 1 and reigning Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka, 13-time Grand Slam champ Serena Williams, and seven-time Grand Slam champ Venus Williams.
The draw ceremony was held at Mechanics Hall, a Renaissance Revival building built in 1857 and renovated in 1977. These days Mechanics Hall is considered one of the top-four concert halls in North America, and on the list of top 12 concert halls located in the United States and Europe. When it was built it was considered state-of-the-art because of its fine acoustics – remember they didn’t have electronic amplification way back when.
Many famous people have appeared at Mechanics Hall through the years. Author Charles Dickens and Susan B. Anthony, one of the forces behind the women’s suffragette movement in America, spoke there. Opera singer Enrico Caruso, jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, crooner Mel Torme, and cellist Yo Yo Ma have also performed at the hall.
The Hook Organ at Mechanics Hall was built in 1864 and with its 3,504 pipes and 52 stops is the oldest unaltered four-keyboard organ in the Western Hemisphere.
She’s fabulous & fourteen!
By Clive White in Fribourg
It’s customary for rookies to make a speech at the official dinners prior to Fed Cup and Davis Cup ties, but they’re not usually of an age when they should be tucked up in bed. If 14-year-old Belinda Bencic plays with anything like the maturity she showed with her speech-making at the tie in Fribourg then tennis could have another Swiss Miss on its hands.
Of course, comparisons with the great Martina Hingis, who exploded onto the world stage at a similarly precocious age, are invidious but, sadly, inevitable. Christiane Jolissaint, the Swiss team captain, means to do her best to protect her as much as possible from excessive publicity, but great things are expected of the teen.
It’s a learning experience for her at the tie against Australia in which she will take no part. “We think it’s very important for her to find out what a team competition is all about,” said Jolissaint.
“The day she plays she will know all about this, there will be no surprises. We think it’s very important for her to make these first experiences. It’s also important that we have this contact with her and her father, and that they know that we care about her and her career.”
No language barrier for Mladenovic
By Martin Sonoga in Bratislava
I was privileged to be invited to attend the official Fed Cup dinner prior to the Fed Cup World Group II tie between Slovakia and France at the Double Tree Hilton and in the end never regretted going.
Locating the venue of the event turned out to be easier than anticipated as the recently- built hotel is situated within a stone's throw from Orange Arena where the tie is being played. The Orange Arena is a state-of-the-art facility that just a couple months ago played host to the ice hockey World Championship.
Gosh, if only the weather were not so cold.
Recently the temperature has dropped way below zero, and as the frost had managed to get under my skin, I was craving for some warmth. To my delight I was welcomed and shown to a table where I was served with sparkling wine and snacks. I had my fill at Burger King earlier that afternoon, so I just grabbed a glass of wine.
Soon after having a conversation with Lubos Palenik, a vital member of the Slovak Tennis Association, the teams arrived on the scene. They all looked awesome in their fashionable evening attire.
As always in Bratislava, the party was immaculate, speakers charming and to the point, and the food... yummy! I think the high point of the night came when the French rookie, Kristina Mladenovic, took the mike as part of the team ritual and, surprisingly, delivered her speech in Slovak instead of French. Mladenovic grew up speaking Serbian with her parents, who came from the former Yugoslavia, so was able to get by with some Slovak.