By Tracy Moran in Stuttgart
Samantha Stosur - Australia's highest ranked player - proved she's not only athletic, but that she also has a sense of humour.
To make a grand entrance at Stuttgart's Rathaus ahead of the draw, the green-and-gold team opted for the rotating open lifts, as opposed to the boring glass one. The conventional lift is centred in the lobby, but the "fun" ones are off to the side. Most attending Friday's press conference couldn't help but give the open ones a go.
The media knew the Australian team was heading up, and they all pointed their cameras to the lifts. I heard a photographer say: "Stosur's coming in the ninth car" in German. The lift's boxes were numbered. And, sure enough, as the number nine appeared, the flashes started, and out popped Stosur. She smiled and waved as she made her athletic entrance. The rest of the team followed her lead.
By Lee Goodall in Moscow
For a nation that has won four of its last five home Fed Cup ties on indoor hard courts, the announcement that this weekend’s World Group semifinal against Serbia would be played on indoor clay may have raised a few eyebrows.
After recent Fed Cup success stories on Russian hard courts over the likes of Spain, Italy, France and China - and, in addition, a hard court victory over this weekend’s opponents Serbia in Belgrade in early 2010 - the hosts decided to bring the dirt inside the Moscow’s Megasport Arena, laying the surface on top of the venue’s permanent ice rink.
One can’t imagine the choice of surface struck any fear into the visiting squad’s two singles stars either – Ana Ivanovic, a player that won her only Grand Slam title on the terre battue at Roland Garros, and Jelena Jankovic, a former Roland Garros semifinalist.
“We grew up on clay so definitely it’s one of our favourite surfaces,” Ivanovic confirmed. “An indoor clay court is a little different, but we’re still excited that the tie is being held on clay.”
Scheduling seems to have been the motivation behind the decision, with the WTA tour poised to begin its European clay court swing, as Russian No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova explained.
“They asked us what we preferred and we decided clay because it’s the clay season coming up and I think it’s a good choice,” Kuznetsova said. “It’s difficult to put a good court over ice, but I think the guys are doing the best job they can.”
It takes two to Tango
By Maximiliano Boso in Buenos Aires
When you talk about Argentina, but especially about its capital - Buenos Aires - there are things that identify the place: certainly the customs and the traditions. If you come to Argentina, a good picture by the Obelisco, walking in Caminito, cheering at Boca Juniors Stadium, or just relaxing in Puerto Madero or Recoleta are all definite musts. Indeed, even the official dinner at the NH City Hotel on Thursday night was an ideal opportunity to discover some traditions of Buenos Aires.
When it was time for the exchange of presents between the teams, the Argentine girls gave their Chinese colleagues a complete set to prepare ‘mate,’ a typical infusion from the Pampas. Translation: It’s a strong herbal tea from the Yerba mate plant.
The visiting team, however, had no idea of what the gift was or what to do with it. Furthermore, the language gap wasn’t of much help. We could see members of the Argentine Association of Tennis (AAT) looking like desperate mimes. Certainly, the great Marcel Marceau would have felt ashamed.
However, the wine was good, the night was young and there was space enough for another surprise. Before dessert, it was time for the tango show. Hector Romani, the Executive Vice President of the AAT, surprisingly invited Bettina Fulco, the Argentine captain, to dance. Fulco, being Argentine, of course, had the tango in her blood.
But not surprisingly, the tango was not tapping on the feet of the Chinese team. Romani went on to invite Qiang Wang, the Chinese team’s top player, to dance as well. It was the big moment of the night. And, by the way, the picture of the shy young lady trying to dance reminded everyone of the Fed Cup motto: “It takes more than skill to play for your country.”
Sara: short and successful
By Adam Bates in Ostrava
Ahead of the draw in Ostrava, I found myself sharing a lift with the Czech doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka. The first thing I noticed was how she was nearly banging her head on the ceiling and I was on my tippy-toes reaching the buttons (I exaggerate a little!). It’s not until you come across a player in real life, as it were, that you appreciate just how physically tall and powerful the best female players are in the game.
Admittedly, she was wearing considerable heels and I wasn’t (honest!), but it did leave me pondering what it must be like for the likes of 5ft 4½in Sara Errani. Indeed, this must be a tie between one of the tallest nations and one of the shortest (the Japan side with 5ft 1in Rika Fujiwara probably claim that ‘honour’) with the timid Italian taking on the powerhouse 6ft Petra Kvitova in her first singles rubber.
Errani is adamant it’s not anything she’s ever been daunted by, telling me “I’ve just had to learn to attack in different ways with plenty of spin.” Although she’s never lost confidence in herself others did. She reveals “other people have doubts, but you must work hard and you can do it”. On winning her second WTA title in 2008 she tellingly dedicated it to all those “that never believed in me as a tennis player, and always said I would never go anywhere”.
After winning her second singles title already this year in Barcelona - beating an even shorter Dominika Cibulkova in the final - the former Bollittieri Academy student is proving now more than ever that you don’t have to be tall to win titles. And she's determined to add the 2012 Fed Cup winners medal to her growing trophy cabinet.
By Sandra Harwitt in Kharkiv
Prior to arriving in Kharkiv for the World Group play-off tie between Ukraine and USA, there was some wondering about the facility known as the Superior Golf & Spa Resort. It was the self-professed Superior that caused attention.
No need to wonder at all. This brand-new hotel complex is simply modern and luxurious. The rooms are spacious with attention to detail. The golf course seems designed with enjoyment and skill consideration. And the clubhouse restaurant is beautiful and the food is simply scrumptious.
The restaurant was decorated to taste for Thursday night’s official dinner. The food was not only plentiful, but delicious – numerous salads to start, pasta next, a choice of salmon or rib-eye steak, and an especially made Fed Cup cake complimented by fresh fruit. Yum to all.
There was entertainment as well. A quartet of break-dancers performed twice and they were quite the talents. The guy who hopped around in a one-arm handstand for an inordinate amount of time really impressed, although the USA team doctor - Jen Solomon, who is an orthopedic surgeon - smiled when asked if that was a skill destined to cause wrist stress-fracture.
Each dinner guest also received a gift - a keychain replica of a Matryoska doll - sometimes known as Bubushka dolls or nesting dolls. They are extremely popular in this area as they are in Russia – Ukraine and Russia were obviously joined at one time in the Soviet bloc.
Everybody at the table where I sat named their dolls. Most thought that a local name would be appropriate. I decided my guy was Yevgeny after Kafelnikov because they seemed to share the blonde hair and haircut style.
If you’re wondering how much fun the dinner was here’s a clue. The teams often are quick to exit once it seems polite to do so. Last night, Team USA were among the last to leave.