It’s always Liezel Huber’s dream scenario to play a live doubles rubber during Fed Cup action.
The No. 1 doubles player in the world was granted her wish at the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal against Russia on Sunday, teaming with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to bring home the 3-2 victory and a second straight Fed Cup Final berth.
In a repeat of last year’s Final, Team USA will face Italy, the defending champions, but this time around the American squad will play host for the end of year finale in November.
“Even today before going on the court, I was like, is this real?” Huber said. “Is it truly coming down to the doubles? Then I just kind of looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘This is why you play tennis, this is why you work hard.”
Interestingly, the last time an American team captured the trophy – they are the leading country for Fed Cup victories with 17 wins – they were the host nation beating Spain in 2000.
Inspired Mattek-Sands wins vital double
Bethanie Mattek-Sands was the real hero of the day when she won two live rubbers – the fourth singles match and the doubles – to deliver the United States to the Final.
Mattek-Sands executed a dramatic 64 26 63 win in two hours, 34 minutes over southpaw Ekaterina Makarova to even the tie score at 2-2.
Then she barely had an opportunity to catch her breath after the before partnering Liezel Huber for a 63 61 victory in the fifth-and-decisive rubber.
“You know what, it was a big adrenaline rush,” Mattek-Sands said. “At one point, I'm normally not really emotional on the court, but just playing in Fed Cup, different pressures.
“You know, I was really pumped, though. I always want to win whether I'm playing singles, doubles, charades, whatever. I think we're all pretty competitive. So I was ready to go. “
Mattek-Sands became the third American to win consecutive live matches to clinch victory. Current U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez performed the feat in the 1996 quarterfinal round against Austria, and Lindsay Davenport did it in the 1995 semifinals against France.
“It's an amazing effort,” said Mary Joe Fernandez, of Mattek-Sands’ two wins on Sunday. “It really is. It's always tough to have to play back to back Fed Cup, singles, doubles. The good news is that Bethanie is used to it. On a weekly basis, she played doubles and singles.”
Dementieva hands Russia advantage
If Mattek-Sands was unable to post the victory the tie would’ve been over as Elena Dementieva had given the Russians a 2-1 lead with her 76(4) 06 63 win over Melanie Oudin in the opening match of the day.
It was a strange two hour, 27 minute match between Dementieva and Oudin that put the Russians aggressively on my serve.
In the second set, a big fatigued and out of sorts by a slow start, Dementieva didn’t even get on the scoreboard as the No. 31 ranked Oudin won six straight games. Dementieva only won nine points on serve in the second set.
Oudin initially seemed to carry the momentum into the third set when she broke Dementieva’s serve in the third game for a 2-1 lead. But Dementieva, the reigning Olympic champion, showed her experience as the No. 6 player in the world to claim five of the next six games to win the match.
“Well, I came off the court and I was really disappointed,” Oudin said. “I really fought as hard as I could. I did the best I could. Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough today.
“I thought that she stepped it up at the very end. That's why she's No. 6 in the world. That's another reason, I mean, she's like 10 years older than me. That experience definitely helped her in the end of the match.”
For the second straight year the Russians hopes of winning a fifth Fed Cup title were dashed before the Final – they last won the Cup in 2008.
And in a look ahead to the November Final, Fernandez wouldn’t commit to a team of Oudin, Mattek-Sands, and Liezel Huber, but she came pretty darn close.
“I have so much faith in this team right here,” Fernandez said. “This has been my team. This is our core group. We're going to keep working with that.”