KHARKIV, UKRAINE: It was a perfect 5-0 outcome for USA over Ukraine at the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off this weekend. Impressively, this was the second consecutive tie that the Americans won in a clean sweep having beaten Belarus 5-0 in World Group II first round action at Worcester, Mass., in February.
A victory for Team USA was imperative. This year marked the first time ever that they were sent down to World Group II and only a win in this play-off would guarantee the Americans to attain a berth in the 2013 World Group.
“That was our goal this year was to get back into the World Group, so I think we’re all really excited about that,” said Christina McHale, who won both of her matches this weekend. “We’ve had two really good ties this year. At least I’m really pleased with how they went.”
The Americans came in as the favorites, especially with Serena Williams as part of the team. Her back-up group was stellar as well with the constantly improving McHale, world No. 1 doubles player Liezel Huber and Sloane Stephens.
It was Williams who had the pleasure of clinching the tie with a 63 62 win over Lesia Tsurenko, the top player on the Ukrainian team. That victory made it 3-0 to USA and the hosts were left with no recourse.
“I’m really excited that I was able to win it and Christina could go out without any pressure,” Williams said.
McHale went on to post a 75 63 win over Elina Svitolina, and Huber and Stephens took out twins Lyudmila and Nadiya Kichenok 64 61 to allow the Americans to close the tie with a perfect result.
Team USA couldn’t stop grinning with pride for how they’ve performed this year in the face of adversity after being bumped from the World Group.
However, the team might not have been so happy later that night. No sooner than there six-hour bus ride from Kharkiv to Kiev started - it was the only way that the players could make early morning flights to their next destination - then the bus broke down. Not to worry as the bus had two generators and they were able to reboot and get underway.
But before that minor glitch in the plans, USA were thinking ahead to the 2013 Fed Cup competition.
Next year is the 50th anniversary of Fed Cup and not being a part of the World Group would’ve been a crushing blow for the Americans. USA are the most successful nation in Fed Cup with 17 titles and captured the first ever Fed Cup in 1963.
“It’s awesome and we’re all so excited,” said captain Mary Joe Fernandez of being back in the World Group draw. “That was our goal this year. It was our first time out of the World Group and we couldn’t wait to get back in so we were really focusing on getting the job done. We’re thrilled to be back.”
Huber put it more succinctly in explaining how important a victory was here in Kharkiv.
“It didn’t matter if the tennis got ugly this weekend or how we won, but we definitely came here with the goal to win,” Huber said. “Leaving here and flying out tomorrow with goal achieved, we’re just so happy. I think we should be very proud of our team.”
Williams also was delighted to help lift USA back into top Fed Cup status, saying, “I feel really good and now we’re back in the World Group where we want to be.”
The weekend also served as the perfect transition from bench warmer to player for Stephens, who played her first career Fed Cup match. There was no pressure to succeed beyond self-pride as the tie was already decided in USA’s favor, but Stephens had the chance to play and the benefit of having the experienced Huber at her side.
“We played like (it was) a live match and it was my first (Fed Cup) match and I thought it was going to be really intense,” Stephens said. “Playing with Liezel is always really intense. I was really nervous at the beginning but she was actually pretty fun. We played serious and we played well.”
Williams tends to have a strong no-show than show record in Fed Cup, but she was very into the weekend this time out. When asked whether she’s going to put Fed Cup on her 2013 schedule, Williams answered in the positive: “Definitely. It’s the perfect week for me. Next year it will be two weeks after the Australian Open, which is even better.”
As for Ukraine, they will be playing in the World Group II in 2013. But despite the loss this weekend all the Ukrainian players showed promise in their performances.