Melanie Oudin is only 18-years-old but, once again, she is tasked with leading the American efforts in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal action against Russia this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.
Oudin, who is 3-3 overall in Fed Cup matches, is the lead player on the USA squad and will face off against Fed Cup neophyte, Alla Kudryavtseva, in the opening match of the semifinal tie.
“It means more, I think, when you play as a team because you’re not only playing for yourself, but for your country and your team as well,” Oudin said at the draw.
“The fact that I’m with the team and it’s way more comfortable and we all hang out together and it’s more fun and relaxing, I think that helps a lot before I play the matches on the weekend.”
For Kudryavtseva, making her Fed Cup debut is a dream come true.
“Team competition is very different from individual matches, so I’m looking forward to it,” Kudryavtseva said. “I’ve never played in a Fed Cup tie, so I’m really excited.”
Dementieva is ‘kingpin’
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, with a 3-2 record in Fed Cup, is also on the squad for the second straight tie after helping USA defeat France in the quarterfinal round in February. Mattek-Sands will play Elena Dementieva, the kingpin of the Russian team with a 24-8 Fed Cup record, in the second match on Friday.
On Sunday, Oudin and Dementieva will square off in the first match. The two are 1-1 against each other, but Oudin won their encounter at the 2009 U.S. Open en route to reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“Both (of our) matches were hard-fought matches, almost three hours,” Oudin said. “I know her game really well and she knows mine really well, so I think it’s going to be a really good match.”
Mattek-Sands and Kudryavtseva will play the second match on Sunday. And in doubles, top-ranked doubles star Liezel Huber and Mattek-Sands will take on Dementieva and Ekaterina Makarova in the final rubber.
Will history repeat itself?
The Americans hold a slight 4-3 edge over Russia in Fed Cup action, but the Russians have won their last three meetings, all wins that came in the semifinals.
The aim for the American team is to change their semifinal luck against Russia to reach the Fed Cup Final for a second straight year, and they’re hoping the home court advantage will be the answer. The Americans have won a record 17 Fed Cup titles, but haven’t brought home the Fed Cup since 2000.
“We’ve been away from home for the last three Fed Cup ties,” said U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez. “So to be home and have familiar faces.
“Melanie said it well last night: We’ve become a family. These weeks are very special, and we give it our all to represent our country the best we can and play our best.”
The Russians have won the Fed Cup trophy four times since 2004 and are hoping that they will find themselves back in the Final again after this weekend. If it takes fighting all the way through to the final doubles match, Dementieva is prepared to perform to the highest standards in singles and doubles.
“I think Fed Cup is a very special event,” Dementieva said. “It’s a very special way you represent your country for all of us, every single player. I’m really honoured to be part of the team and represent my country in Fed Cup.”
The full draw is as follows:
Melanie Oudin (USA) v Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) v Elena Dementieva (RUS)
Melanie Oudin (USA) v Elena Dementieva (RUS)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) v Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS)
Liezel Huber / Bethhanie Mattek-Sands (USA) v Elena Dementieva / Ekaterina Makarova (RUS)