It’s changeover time on the court. That means it’s also conference time between player and coach. Whoa! What’s going on here? Coach and player conferring at every changeover, is it possible. Yes, that’s the way it goes at Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. And that’s the way it went today at the Fed Cup Final between Italy and the United States.
U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez was trying to coax her players to fight off the more prominent Italian competition, and ignore the chants of the pro-home team fans. Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti kept telling his players to just keep up the good work, and feed off the crowd’s emotion.
There are a number of things that distinguish Fed Cup from a generic tennis tournament, even the most important of events such as the four Grand Slams.
Obviously, the most notable difference is you’re playing for the glory of country, not the glory of self. This is a big deal for the majority of players, who admit to having a few goose bumps at the honor of representing their nation.
A captain’s role
Another really important distinction that comes along with Fed Cup territory is that coaching is permissible, an added element where the athlete is able to enjoy the on-the-spot insight of a coach.
American Alexa Glatch did not look as gloomy as the weather when she came in to have a chat with the media after Flavia Pennetta beat her 63, 61. And she could do nothing but pay Fernandez a compliment for her coaching style.
“I think it’s great to have Mary Joe on the bench,” Glatch said. “She’s awesome. I wouldn’t want any other captain out there with me. I really enjoy that aspect of it. She’s so positive, and she really sees the game well.
“I think she really helped me even though I, maybe, didn’t play my best today. Even in Czech [Republic], a lot of my success was because of her. So I think it’s great that she’s out there with me. She’s helped this team so much. Look where she’s gotten us.”
‘Pennetta the Powerful’ took the opportunity to pay homage to Barazzutti, who kept her calm when she was initially nervous coming out to the court.
“It’s nice because when you are nervous it’s good to just don’t think and do what they say,” said Pennetta, pointing out that the coach can get a sense of the match from the sidelines better than the player who is playing.
“When you’re on the court everything is gonna be very different. You see the court so small. You cannot see where you have to put the ball. So it’s nice to just relax sometimes and do what they [the coach] say.”
But Pennetta’s cheers for Barazzutti did not compare to what teammate Schiavone had to say in support of Il Capitano after she rebounded from 4-2 down for a 76(2) 62 win over American upstart Melanie Oudin.
“He's God,” Schiavone, laughing, said of Barazzutti. “He was a big player, so he can understand what's going on when we play. That's, I think, the most important thing. It's a good mix that gives us balance and good feeling, for me, for Flavia, for all the team. [He’s got] character and [is] professional. So we are lucky.”
Rain doesn’t spoil day for Italians
As for Saturday, it was another damp day in the neighborhood, but the weather did not dampen the spirits of the Italian team nor their adoring fans.
The Final got underway with Pennetta, who as a native to the Southern region of Italy had all her family, friends and fans in her corner. It didn’t hurt to have a personal cheering squad, but Pennetta really didn’t need it as she was on top of Glatch from the get-go to put the Italians ahead 1-0 in the tie.
Italy, however, was not without a moment of worry in the second match when Oudin initially led Schiavone in the match. Unfortunately for Oudin, that’s when the rain came. Instead of being able to ride the temporary wave of success, Oudin ended up playing a rejuvenated Schiavone, who found her footing, as well as momentum from the crowd when two hours later they returned to the court.
The opening day came to a close under a cloudy night sky with everyone going their separate ways, but all with fingers crossed for the sun to shine brightly on Sunday.
Fernandez will likely be telling her young charges it’s not over until it’s over, so go out there and give it your best shot.
Barazzutti will likely be telling his veteran squad not to count their chickens before they hatch because while a 2-0 lead is almost getting the job done, there’s more work to be done.
And one thing both teams will have in common tonight – another tasty Italian epicurean feast. Pasta anyone? Pizza anyone? Gelato anyone? As for me, I think it’s a pizza and gelato night tonight!
P.S. Locals claim that a small green shack just beyond the water’s edge offers the best gelato in all of Italy. Yes, they actually claim in all of Italy. Stay tuned tomorrow for a report back on the validity of that claim!
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Sandra, an American sportswriter for longer than she's willing to admit, has travelled the world to cover tennis for major publications, such as ESPN.com, The Miami Herald, and Associated Press. Her biggest problem of late is managing to pack worldwide purchases into suitcases and still meet the airline weight restrictions.