WORLD GROUP I, FIRST ROUND
FRANCE d ITALY 3-2
Genoa, Italy, clay
Sara Errani and Camila Giorgi played just fine on Saturday, with Errani playing very steady and defeating Caroline Garcia 7-6(2) 7-5. Then, Giorgi raced around and whacked her returns over Alize Cornet 6-4 6-2. On Saturday night, the captain Amelie Mauresmo changed her approach, telling the youngesters to go for it early. She sat Cornet, and then she told Kristina Mladenovic and Garcia to crack it. Mladenovic bested Errani, Garcia over whelmed Giorgi (and then they stunned Errani/Roberta Vinci 61 62 in doubles). Those two Italians had won 18 straight in dubs at the Fed Cup and they were shacking their heads. Props to the captain and coach Mauresmo. “I was either going to be a genius or a nonsense captain,” she said.
France will play away in the Czech Republic in the sems in April. They will be the underdog, but their team is gelling.
CZECH REPUBLIC d CANADA 4-0
Quebec City, Canada, hard
Canada’s top player, Genie Bouchard, decided not to play, and they had no chance at all. If Bouchard had played, she could have won two singles, but they likely would have lost anyway as the Czechs have been excellent over the past four year, having won three titles. The Czech are so deep that they didn’t need to bring in the top two players, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova. Instead, they went for the No. 22 Karolina Pliskova and the rising Tereza Smitkova. Pliscova knocked out Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski , while Smitkova beat Dabrowski. It was all over so quickly.
Now the Czechs will go home and face France, which won’t be easy. Who knows if both Kvitova and Safarova will play during April, but Pliscova is right there and perhaps better than anyone in France now. But at home? Pressure, serious pressure.
RUSSIA d POLAND 4-0
Krakow Arena, Poland, hard
Maria Sharapova played as well as she ever, beating both Radwanskas, Agnieszka and Urszula. Throw in a big win by Svetlana Kuznetsova upending Aga 64 26 62 on Saturday and the tie was pretty much gone. Had Aga down Kuznetsova in the first day and it would have been 1-1. Then maybe, and I mean maybe, and if Aga would have played great, had the crowd been screaming for her and she may have stunned Sharapova. Then, Ula may have risen again (she hasn’t played very well since 2012), she could have upset Kuznetsova and they could have partied in front of 15,000 fans. But, Sharapova out hit her 6-1 7-5 and it was over. Now Sharapova has to decide whether she will play in April at Moscow against Germany, who is an excellent team. Sharapova has never played two Fed Cup teams in a row, but her new coach, Anastasia Myskina, has mapped it out smartly and it appears that the two are getting along now. They did not get along back in a decade ago when they both were playing against each other. Maybe “Nastia” and Maria will gel and bring the Fed Cup home.
GERMANY d AUSTRALIA 4-1
Stuttgart, Germany, hard
Andrea Petkovic loves her Fed Cup team and, once again, she has shined. Her wins weren’t easy, but then nonetheless, she pushed ahead even though she had to battle for hours and hours.
The Australian had a good weekend, when Jarmila Gajdosova started by beating Angelique Kerber 4-6 6-2 6-4, as “Angie” continues to slump. But here came “Petko” who faced a match point but wore down Sam Stosur 6-4 3-6 12-10.
On Sunday, Kerber rose and beat Stosur 6-2 6-4, as the Aussie looked tired and the lefty finally moved forward. Then Petkovic had to stay awake again and did, besting Gajdosova 63 36 86 to win the title. Petkovic was overjoyed. Now she and the rest of them will go to Russia, which will be difficult. But, they reached the final last year (losing to the Czechs) and badly want to win it all. They’ll have a chance, against anyone.
On the World Group II, the US beat Argentina 4-1, with Venus Williams winning two matches on clay. Serena won her first match, but then pulled out on Sunday as she was sick. Will they both in April to push the team back until the Wolrd Group 1? Hope so.
Romania played at home but had to go to the wall to best Spain 3-2.
No. 3 Simona Halep looked like she would win both matches but slammed into Fed Cup pressure. She beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa but then she went down to Garbine Muguruza, the talented young tean who won both matches. However, Irina-Camelia Begu (who also lost to Muguruza) beat Soler-Espinosa. The tie went to the doubles, where Begu/Monica Niculescu took down the vetreran Anabel Medina Garrigues/Muguruza 57 63 62. Good enough, but close.
The Netherlands beat Slovakia 4-1 , credit to two wins by Arantxa Rus … Switzerland won very easily with Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic.