The first round of the 2010 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group tie between USA and France, played in northern France’s Stade Couvert Regional de Lievin, will be the 11th meeting between the two nations.
After Billie Jean King granted USA the decisive point in the nations’ first ever meeting in 1966, France needed to wait 37 years before defeating USA for the first time, in the 2003 World Group Final in Moscow. This weekend, both teams are desperately trying to reclaim their place among the leading nations of women’s tennis.
Gone is the era of American domination characterising the late 70s (they won seven consecutive titles between 1976 and 1982) and featuring iconic players such as King, Evert or Austin. USA has not won the Fed Cup for a decade. However, despite a lack of superstar players, Mary-Jo Fernandez’s squad did make it to the final dance last year, only to be swirled out of the party by a determined and skillful Italian team playing on home soil.
Oudin and Huber return for 2010 challenge
Half the Fernandez team is back in Lievin spearheading the new American comeback. Melanie Oudin, the team leader, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (ranked No. 140) are the players Mary-Jo has assigned to singles, while Liezel Huber, the world’s top doubles player, and Mattek-Sands will team up for doubles.
“I’m excited about this tie. I like coming to France. The match-ups are tough, it’s pretty even. The matches can go either way, but hopefully our team will be a bit mentally tougher,” Fernandez said.
France, it’s worth mentioning, did capture the trophy in 2003 and was solid runner-up for the following two years. Still, it’s hard to breathe easy and say tout va bien. Since 2006, France had to play three Play-off ties that often went to the wire, and it gets more complicated, given that Amelie Mauresmo and Nathalie Dechy are missing from the line-up for the first time having both recently retired from tennis.
Pressure for top-ranked Cornet
The double departure leaves captain Nicolas Escude with four girls who have, between them, accumulated a total of one match win in Fed Cup. Alize Cornet, France’s top player and ranked No. 65 in the world, remains the team’s most experienced player. But with four hard-fought ties under her belt, she has yet to win a rubber. Together with local talent Julie Coin (No. 76), the two will represent the host nation in singles, while Pauline Parmentier (No. 104) and Stephanie Cohen-Aloro (No. 137) are Escude’s chosen doubles pair.
“It’s going to be a difficult tie as are all Fed Cup matches,” says Escude. “We are fortunate to play at home on a surface that we chose. The girls have worked hard all week and are ready to go out and win.”
So what are the keys to this tie? What are the pros and cons?
Unity key to the tie
Alize Cornet (FRA) v Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
Pauline Parmentier (FRA) v Melanie Oudin (USA)
Obviously, the home court advantage can’t be overlooked. Having chosen clay as the tie surface clearly plays in favour of the hosts. However, the enigma remains as to the capacity of the French to perform while playing under their flag, and if the performance of the 2009 finalists is anything to go by, clay will not help them one bit, no matter what they say. What they both have going for them though is solid team spirit. After all, it was unity and solidarity that got USA as far as the final in 2009.
Both teams though, sadly, are missing top players. On the US side, the noteworthy absentees are Venus and Serena Williams; on the other it’s Marion Bartoli, Aravane Rezai and Virginie Razzano. This alone places victory within hands’ reach for both teams. France may have a slight edge being on home turf and boasting slightly better-ranked players, but the United States has the compounded experience and a solid team spirit. Which of these aspects is more important? The answer will come Sunday evening.
Saturday - Play starts at 13:30 (12:30 GMT)
Sunday - Play starts at 13:00 (12:00 GMT)
Alize Cornet (FRA) v Melanie Oudin (USA)
Pauline Parmentier (FRA) v Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)
Stephanie Cohen-Aloro / Julie Coin (FRA) v Liezel Huber / Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)