ST. LOUIS, MO, USA: Whether anyone actually sang the song “Meet Me In St. Louis” ahead of this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie between France and USA, is questionable at best.
But it certainly would have been appropriate as this great Midwestern city hosts two teams gathering for an all-important outing that will determine which nation will go forth to the 2015 World Group.
The draw ceremony took place at the historic St. Louis Public Library on Thursday afternoon. And as it turned out both teams were heading into battle with slightly different teams than originally anticipated.
France’s Kristina Mladenovic withdrew earlier this week with a forearm injury and never made the trip. In her stead, 28-year-old Claire Feuerstein will be making her Fed Cup debut for France.
Team USA had to scramble for a last minute substitution when Varvara Lepchenko determined her calf injury would prevent her from playing. An emergency phone call went out to Lauren Davis, who agreed to join the team and was expected to arrive on Thursday evening.
Not surprisingly, French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo and USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez are both former top players who understand the best approach towards a play-off tie with much at stake.
Mauresmo, a former world No. 1, Fed Cup and Grand Slam champion, said, “We don’t really care where we are and who we are playing against. I think the most important thing is to focus on what we have to do and what we can control. The rest is out of our hands.”
Fernandez, a former top 10 player and Fed Cup champion said, “It’s going to be about taking care of what we can control on our side of the court and adjusting if need be. It’s always unique when you play for your country because every point seems like a really big point. I think everybody is ready.”
Come 3:30pm in St. Louis on Saturday afternoon, Sloane Stephens, playing as No. 1 for USA for the first time in her career, will take on Caroline Garcia. It will be the first meeting between the two.
The 51st-ranked Garcia arrived in St. Louis off of a career milestone - she won her inaugural career title with a 63 64 upset of top 10-ranked Jelena Jankovic at the Bogota, Colombia tournament.
“I know my game is ready to have a good match and just play and just enjoy it and do the best we can,” Garcia said. “I don’t really know what I can expect, but it will be a very good match to play.”
The 17th-ranked Stephens, who reached the Indian Wells quarterfinals this year, was also in Bogota, but fell in the opening round.
“Last year was the first singles tie that I played, so I was a bit nervous,” Stephens said. “It was a lot of pressure. I’m excited to be here, excited to be with the girls, and excited for a great weekend. Hopefully, we’ll get out there and kick some butt — no offense to the other team.”
The second match on Saturday will find France’s No. 1 Alize Cornet going off against Madison Keys.
Cornet also travelled to St. Louis having won a title last week — her first of the season - in Katowice, Poland, beating Italy’s Camila Giorgi 76 57 75 in the final.
“I think it’s good to get some confidence before this tie,” said Cornet, of coming to St. Louis having won a trophy. “I think it was the best preparation.”
Keys’ best result of the year was reaching the Sydney semifinals ahead of the Australian Open. She made her first Fed Cup appearance in this year’s first round tie against Italy, which USA lost in February.
“I was definitely nervous that being my first Fed Cup,” said Keys, of her outing against Italy. “I am a little bit more comfortable this time. Hopefully, we go out and we all do really well.”
On Easter Sunday, Stephens and Cornet will play the first match, followed by Keys and Garcia. And on tap for the doubles match are USA’s Christina McHale and Lauren Davis against France’s Claire Feuerstein and Virginie Razzano.
This encounter marks the 13th meeting between USA and France. It’s hard not to notice that USA holds a monumental 11-1 winning record over France.
However, it is of note that the one victory France secured was in the 2003 final — France won that 4-1 in Moscow, Russia, at a time when the semifinals and finals were played at the same venue, in the same week.
While this play-off presents as a home tie for USA — their third home tie in a row — it’s worth mentioning that St. Louis, Missouri came into existence as part of France.
The city was founded by two Frenchmen in the name of King Louis IX in 1764 and is celebrating its 250th birthday this year. It was in 1803 that the Louisiana Purchase deal took place and US President Thomas Jefferson acquired the vast territory that encompasses a great deal of the middle portion of the United States from France for $15 million.
So now we wait to see if St. Louis’ French roots work for the French Fed Cup team or whether being a longtime major Midwestern American city turns good fortune for Team USA.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Sloane Stephens (USA) v Caroline Garcia (FRA)
R2: Madison Keys (USA) v Alize Cornet (FRA)
R3: Sloane Stephens (USA) v Alize Cornet (FRA)
R4: Madison Keys (USA) v Caroline Garcia (FRA)
R5: Lauren Davis/Christina McHale (USA) v Claire Feuerstein/Virginie Razzano (GER)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Alize Cornet (FRA) - 18/04/2014
Sloane Stephens (USA) - 18/04/2014