Team USA and Team Russia will go to sleep on Saturday night knowing there’s a big fight ahead on Sunday for the honour of moving into the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final this coming November, after the two sides came away from the first day with a split decision.
Melanie Oudin, the No. 1 player for her team, won the opening match to put USA ahead 1-0 when she defeated Alla Kudryavtseva 63 63.
Elena Dementieva, the highest ranked singles player of the tie at No. 6 in the world, scored the second win with a 64 63 victory over Bethanie Mattek-Sands, bringing Russia level to 1-1 with the host nation.
“For me, it was not easy to play because of the situation love-one,” said Dementieva, who is now 21-5 in Fed Cup singles action. “It always feels a little bit more pressure when you have to win your match.”
Oudin was happy to finally get to play the first rubber in a Fed Cup tie as she previously had always gone off second on the opening day of competition.
“I was looking forward to playing the first match because you can just go out there and not really worry about anything,” said Oudin, who improved her Fed Cup record to 4-3 win the win over Kudryavtseva. “You’re not down or you’re not up.”
Oudin initially trailed Kudryavtseva 1-3 in the first set, and 0-2 in the second set, but the Russian was nervous to be making her Fed Cup debut and couldn’t capitalise on her two leads.
“I started well considering how nervous I was,” Kudryavtseva said. “I guess I just got more nervous as I went on. It’s a great honour to play for your country, but also a great responsibility. So I did feel a lot of pressure.”
Home crowd make themselves heard
Despite dangerous storms and tornado warnings for the Birmingham area, fans took advantage of the indoor sporting event and made the trek to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena.
That enabled Kudryavtseva to experience for the first time what it feels like to have almost an entire crowd rooting against you. Although the crowd was not in her corner, Kudryavtseva enjoyed the atmosphere.
“I don’t know if I ever had so many people cheer so aggressively against me,” Kudryavtseva said. “That was great, a great experience.”
Oudin, known for slow starts to matches, calmly handled Kudryavtseva’s aggressiveness and pummeling backhand to work her way to the win.
In the first set, behind 1-3, she won the final five games for a one-set advantage. Then in the second set, she won six of the last seven games, closing out the match on her second match point with a stinging forehand at the net.
“I thought I played a really good, solid match all the way through,” Oudin said. “A little rocky in the beginning of the first set, but I thought I closed it out really well.”
Dementieva draws Russia level
Dementieva put the Russians on the scoreboard by playing capable and solid tennis, taking advantage of six of 11 break point opportunities in the match.
Mattek-Sands plays a similar style to Dementieva and she certainly didn’t back away from the challenge, even though the American is ranked 123 spots behind the Russian.
They posted a similar number of winners – 23 for Mattek-Sands to 21 for Dementieva – but the American lost out on the unforced error count, with 43 to 32 respectively.
The day ended with Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev suggesting that there could be a change of players for the fourth match on Sunday against Mattek-Sands, swapping Ekaterina Makarova for the admittedly nervous Kudryavtseva.
But all eyes will be on the opening match between both team’s No. 1 players, Oudin and Dementieva. They currently are tied at 1-1 in career outings, so this encounter will be the tiebreaker.
Dementieva said: “I expect a tough match against Melanie. I think this kind of court (indoor hard) suits her game. Physically she looks pretty fit, pretty good at this match against Alla. Tomorrow I will be aggressive from the beginning, try not to go to long rallies because I know she feels very comfortable at the baseline.”
Oudin said: “I’m gonna go into tomorrow just like any other match I’d play. I’ve played Elena twice now. We’ve played really good matches. I played well both times.”