As the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie in Lievin approached, all experts predicted a neat tie between France and USA, and one that would probably go down to the wire given the numerous similarities between the two teams.
This, however, was not the case. After a first day of tennis at the Stade Couvert Regional de Lievin, the American team was already in the driver’s seat, leading 2-0.
Cornet’s Fed Cup curse
Alize Cornet was out on court first, facing USA’s last-minute nominee Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who replaced injured Shenay Perry. Despite the 75 ranking spots separating these adversaries, it was the American, and in this case the lower ranked player, that came out on top.
How could it be, you may ask. Mattek-Sands took two months off after the US Open and was not even planning to play the Australian Open. She ended up going Down Under and lost in the third round… of qualies. Since then, she hasn’t even registered on the radar.
This week in Lievin though, Mattek-Sands was ready to “grind it out”. On the other side of the net, she faced a player who had made it to the Rome final in 2008 and whose compatriots considered her to be the next Mauresmo. This performance, however, was not very Mauresmo-esque.
Her match against Mattek-Sands was the epitome of her Fed Cup curse – her record is now 0-8. The Nice native was up 52 40-0, with three set points on her racket. She ended up losing the set and the match 76(7) 75.
Oudin enhances growing reputation
Then came Melanie Oudin’s turn to face local hero Pauline Parmentier. Oudin’s win was not only crucial but also very informative as to what type of Fed Cup player the young Georgia peach is.
Facing Fed Cup debutante Parmentier, Oudin was clearly the favourite. But it’s not easy to stand up to a rookie playing on home turf (literally). The French girl played a good match. She did not hold back and took her chances, but when push came to shove, it was Oudin who won the important points.
Mary Joe Fernandez’s top player proved she had that crucial ingredient needed to defend your country’s honour – guts. With a 2-0 lead, USA seemed to be heading straight to the semifinals.
As for the host nation, unless a miraculous comeback was achieved, which has only happened three times since 1995, they would once again be slated for a World Group Play-off tie.
Home sweet home… at last
Sunday’s surprise was the nomination of Julie Coin instead of Alize Cornet, with French captain Nicolas Escude needing to try something new.
Coin, another player making her Fed Cup debut, came out on court with nothing to lose. Nobody expected her to win and therefore the pressure was on Oudin.
Once again, the 2009 US Open quarterfinalist delivered on the big stage. Despite Coin’s heavy serve and aggressive game, Oudin stood tall, dealt perfectly with the pressure and clinched the semifinal spot.
Since the first round of last year’s campaign, the Americans have not had a home tie. In the semifinals, however, they will face Russia at a location of their own choice.
The real question is: with what players will both teams show up? If Russia comes with the big guns, Mary Joe Fernandez might have to get some help from her top players.
The French, on the other hand, must wait until Wednesday’s draw in London to know which nation will challenge them for a spot amongst the elite.