By Sandra Harwitt in Delray Beach
Apparently having a four-legged mascot is not unique to Fed Cup teams.
Not to be outdone by Sophie, the German Fed Cup teams Jack Russell Terrier, the USA team is happily represented by Harold the Havanese, the six-year-old dog belonging to Venus Williams.
After the draw ceremony and press conferences the US squad went into a room at the Crest Theater where Venus unzipped her purse and Harold popped out.
The grey and white pup is a clear favorite of the team. Auntie Serena came into the room and picked up Harold and showered the dog with hugs and kisses. Venus went off for an interview and left Harold with honorary aunts Varvara Lepchenko and Jamie Hampton.
Venus knows that Harold is popular, maybe even too popular. “He was seeking shade the other day,” she says, laughing. “We were on the court and he just started following Varvara off the court and I’m saying, “Hey, I’m your mom, I’m still over here.”
Last we saw Harold was getting re-zipped into his carry bag. Good thing he only weighs 11 pounds.
Chasing tennis balls... Sophie style!
By Sue Chester in Stuttgart
Top dog takes on another meaning in the German team where their sixth official member is Sophie, the Jack Russell.
Given to coach Barbara Rittner - a former tour player - by Martina Navratilova as a gift 10 years ago, Sophie has been a valued member of the team, always happy to sit on the sidelines and be a ball girl.
“Sophie’s 12 years old, she’s with me for 10 and a half years and she’s a part of me,” explains Rittner. “She is always court-side and very well behaved. She sits or lies next to the court and watches what I’m doing.”
Whilst you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, Sophie clearly also enjoys her wild and random daily fitness sessions, running after tennis balls in every direction. Doesn’t she ever get bored of tennis balls? “No” Rittner replies, “She loves tennis balls. Whenever there is a break in practice she always tries to play with me.”
Sophie is a permanent fixture; she’s there at every practice and every match. The German girls are used to her, managing to stay focused on their games. Rittner says, “They’re so used to being around her, they all love her. She’s with us all the time, even on the practice court she is sitting on the bench, so she’s part of the team I guess.”
Serbian coach Dejan Vranes, is also a keen dog owner and has three German hunting dogs at home in his country hunting pad. He admits he misses them badly whilst on the road and during the week when he’s in Belgrade.
What is Sophie’s prediction for the Germany versus Serbia Fed Cup tie? Barbara is quick to qualify Sophie’s role in the team, “She doesn’t make predictions. She’s our lucky charm. She’s just there for our luck. She’s our biggest fan.”
When in Palermo...
By Chris Bowers in Palermo
Draws for Fed Cup by BNP Paribas ties take place in a range of different places, but few are as beautiful as the residence of the mayor of Palermo where the draw for the Italy v Czech Republic semifinal took place.
Built of indigenous Sicilian stone, one of the rooms provided a stunning backdrop to the draw, and one of the terraces nestling in the hillside offered the the chance to snap the official photographs in the sharp Mediterranean daylight that photographers and cameramen crave.
But perhaps, inevitably, the mayor's residence also involved the mayor, Leoluca Orlando. A man who has made his name fighting organised crime, Orlando is a larger-than-life personality currently in his third stint as mayor, having first been elected in 1985.
Just as the television cameras were getting pictures of smiling players happy to shake hands a day before doing battle on red clay, Signor Orlando took centre stage to offer gifts to the Czech and BNP Paribas representatives, leaving the organisers scratching their heads as to what had happened to the official plan of action.
But this is Sicily, and what's a few minutes delay when the sun is shining and the light is beautiful? And after all, he was the host.
Supermarket shopping in Kiev
By Ravi Ubha in Kiev
With its green spaces, numerous churches and a popular island not far from the city centre, there is much to see in Kiev.
Ukraine’s capital was in the spotlight as part of last summer’s European Championships in football (or soccer) and plays host to this weekend’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II playoff between Ukraine and Canada. More visitors are sure to come in the future.
But before a ball is hit or any sightseeing can take place, the first port of call for this author is a supermarket. Hey, who wants to pay mini-bar prices for a small bottle of water? It’s also a nice way of seeing how the locals shop and what specials are on offer.
The Mera Market was a gigantic place filled with everything you could ask for. Unfortunately for a young woman, her shopping experience ended in turmoil – she appeared to be picked up for shoplifting. She pleaded with a burly security person to let her go, but to no avail.
There were more types of water than I needed, a real abundance. Still water was what I was looking for, not sparkling, and I asked an employee whether the bottle I chose was the right one. He didn’t speak much English (though it’s better than my Ukrainian or Russian), but we got there in the end. He was smiling, I was smiling and we both gestured intermittently, making for a nice moment.
The price made me smile, too. For six 1.5 litre bottles of a good brand, the total bill was equivalent to £2.70 or $4.10. The minibar price for one 0.33 litre bottle? Heftier, at £3.20 or $4.90.
By Jeff Kavanaugh in Chiasso-Sesiglio
While it’s not unusual for mishit tennis balls to fly up and out of smaller venues around the world, it’s certainly not every day that an errant smash could actually send a ball into another country.
Such an outcome, however, is a very distinct possibility at the site of this weekend’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Playoff tie between Switzerland and Australia, at the Tennis Club Chiasso.
Nestled between the mountains on the outskirts of the small, southern Swiss city of Chiasso, the picturesque 1000-seat, clay court stadium sits directly alongside Switzerland’s border with Italy.
So close, in fact, that less responsible fans seated at the top of its main stand could reach backwards and send their litter over a small creek and fence and abroad. And while such actions might not necessarily spark a major international incident, it would undoubtedly invoke the ire of the owners of the farmhouse next door, who probably spend enough of their time heaving other unwanted gifts back over the fence.
Barcelona is a sporting town
By James Bryce in Barcelona
Few cities have sport running through the veins quite like Barcelona, the host of this weekend’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off between Spain and Japan.
The Spanish city was placed firmly on the map following the highly successful 1992 Olympic Games and has gone on to hold some of the world’s biggest sporting occasions.
Formula One’s star names are set to descend on the city in May for the Spanish Grand Prix, while Barcelona FC will play Bayern Munich for a place in next month’s Champions League Final.
MotoGP and the Barcelona Marathon are other key dates in the calendar, but tennis is also at the heart of the city’s sporting culture, and is where some of its biggest names have honed their skills.
The Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy where Emilio Sanchez, older brother of Spanish legend Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, is president, has trained the likes of Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
It is also where a 15-year-old unknown Scot by the name of Andy Murray made his first tentative steps towards the top of the world rankings.
This weekend the Real Club de Polo finds itself in the spotlight as the backdrop to what is sure to be a tense and keenly contested Fed Cup tie.
With several of the Spanish team based in Barcelona throughout the year, they will be hoping the passionate home support can cheer them on for a place in the World Group.
By Clive White in Besancon
Rookie speeches at Fed Cup official dinners are invariably short-and-sweet. Not Caroline Garcia’s, though. Amelie Mauresmo, France’s new Fed Cup captain, warned the gathering at the Besancon town hall that they could be in for a treat when she handed over the rostrum to the 19-year-old from Lyon. “Maybe Caroline will sing a song or perform a show – we don’t know yet.”
Garcia may have started with a few nervous giggles, but once she got going there was no stopping her – as Maria Sharapova discovered, almost to her cost, when the French girl – then just 17 - stormed into a 63 4-1 15–0 lead against her in the second round of the 2011 French Open. Great Britain’s Andy Murray, was moved to tweet at the time: “The girl Sharapova is playing is going to be number one in the world one day...what a player.”
Now, like then, Garcia eventually did run out of steam, but not before inviting all of her teammates to the front of the hall to join her in a gusto rendition of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
The translator hardly got a word in edgeways, although after making the mistake of “translating” the English speech of Adil Burlibayev, the vice-president of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, into English, he was probably relieved.
Mauresmo was just disappointed that her opposite number Dias Doskarayev didn’t attempt his speech in French after all the time that the Kazakhstan team had spent in France training - they were a week at Patrick Mouratoglou’s Academy just outside Paris.
“I’ll work on that,” said the Kazakhstan captain. “Good,” replied Mauresmo.