Fed Cup, Winners & Losers, April 19: Czechs & Russia reach final. Kvitova returns, Vesnina helps team, Germany falls


The World Group

Czech Republic d France 3-0

WINNERS: The Czech Republic is unstoppable, once again. On Saturday, Petra Kvitova swept aside Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-4. Then Lucie Safarova — who has been so impressive over the past two and half years and rarely panics at the Fed Cup — overcame Caroline Garcia 4-6 7-6(1) 6-1. Kvitova, who hasn’t played since February, beat Garcia 6-4, 6-4 to win the tie 3-0 over France on Sunday.

The Czechs beat Germany in the final at Prague last year over Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic; they beat Serbia in Prague in 2011 over Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic; they beat Russia 3-2 in the final 2010 in Moscow over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Kirilenko, among others. Now the Czechs will play the final again, this time against Russia once again and presumably, in Prague. Do Kvitova and Safarova want a piece against Maria Sharapova? You bet they do.

LOSERS: Caroline Garcia has improved quite a bit this year but she has to be more patient and not go for winners immediately. She will in time.

Russia d Germany 3-2

The Germans thought it a had a real chance to take down the Russians after Sharapova pulled out, but they couldn’t do it when. in the fifth rubber, the excellent doubles player Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova wiped out Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki in straight sets.

Captain Barbara Rittner had so many different choices. She said that Kerber, who had won Charleston last week, was too tired and didn’t arrive until Wednesday so she needed to rest. Petkovic, who made it into the semifinals, was also tired and hurt. But they had five days before Saturday, so if they were OK, why not just put them on Saturday? At the Grand Slams, you have one day off, and then you are ready to play again. Unless you are injured, that’s fine, but if they are OK, then go with it. That is why they are the main competitors.

However, Rittner felt that Julia Goerges has been good at times on the clay and Lisicki had been played well at Indian Wells and Miami. But they both lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and then Germany was in serious trouble. But whoops, Petkovic and Kerber were ready on Sunday, they destroyed Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova and they were ready to grab the tie. But hold on.

Rittner decided to use Petkovic and Lisicki instead of trying Goerges, but Lisicki grew nervous and wasn’t listening, while Petkovic began to get frustrated. Vesnina knew exactly where she should be and what she would do and Russia won it. Props for the captain Anastasia Myskina, who talked to the team and calmed them down at 2-2. You can guarantee that she will want Sharapova to be the leader in the final.

LOSERS: Rittner paid and they lost and that was painful. But her team has stuck in there and they have to give her another chance in 2016.


Italy d USA 3-2

Serena Williams did not play spectacular in singles by beating Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani, but in the fifth rubber, she and Alison Riske lost 6-0 6-3 to Errani and Flavia Pennetta. Props to Errani and Pennetta who really know how to mix in their shots, but Serena and Riske weren’t very enthusiastic.

LOSERS: The younger girls still have a lot to learn, including Riske, Lauren Davis and Christina McHale who lost very quickly and quietly.

Switzerland d Poland 3-2

Crazy days, that is for sure. Aga Radwanska comes out firing and beats Martina Hingis 6-4 6-0, her best match all year, even though the former No. 1 hasn’t played singles in eight years. The Swiss Timea Bacsinszky has played very well over the past two months, and she whacked Urszula Radwanska 6-2 6-1. But then Bacsinszky smoked Radwanska 6-1 6-1. That was stunning. Hingis surpisingly fell to Urszula 4-6 7-5 6-1. Back in the day, Hingis would play for hours and never looked tired. Now at the age of 34, she looks terrific moving around in the doubles, but on singles, she is not as fast. But getting tired after a couple of hours? She must have been super nervous inside, because there is no reason that her legs were heavy.

Whatever the case, Hingis didn’t play the doubles because she couldn’t run anymore, but Bacsinszky was gutsy again, playing with Viktorija Golubic and they beat Aga and Alicja Rosolska 2-6 6-4 9-7.

LOSES: Without question, Aga Radwanska has been reeling, losing to everyone and everything this year. Losing easily at home against Bacsinszky — who has played lights out – by the once former Wimbledon final shows that she is very confused.

Romania d Canada 3-0

Good for Genie Bouchard who changed her mind and came to Montreal. However, she is really slumping, losing both matches to Alexandra Dulgheru and Andreea Mitu, a real unknown. But, the tennis world knows her now. The top Romanian’s Irina-Camelia Begu couldn’t even play on Sunday because she was hurt (she beat Francoise Abanda on Saturday). Credit to all the players who won as there No. 2 Simona Halep couldn’t make it.

LOSSES: Bouchard has lost her rhythm, but she took a big hit by not shaking hands with Dulgheru at the tie. People will talk about it all year long, or until she retires.

Netherlands d Australia 3-1

It looked like Australia would win easily, but Sam Stosur was hurt and couldn’t play. The Netherlands played as well as they could, with Kiki Bertens winning two matches, beating Jarmila Gajdosova and Casey Dellacqua, while Arantxa Rus grabbed one over Gajdosova 0-6 7-5 7-5 to end it. Props to the captain, the former ATP pro Paul Haarhuis, who gave them self belief.

LOSSES: Gajdosova should have been able to best Rus, who is ranked at No. 217.

Picture of the Day, Sept. 26: Hingis camps reacts

hingis screen shot tokyo 13

Photo of the Day: Hingis will play on despite losses

Hingis USO 13 TR MALT7016

Hingis’ fabulous return, big changes for Ivanovic


Will Martina commit to the long-term?


By Matt Cronin

FROM THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN AT CARLSBAD – There weren’t two more happy people in San Diego County than Martina Hingis and Daniela Hantuchova on Wednesday night after their 6-1 6-1 victory over Julia Goerges and Darija Jurak. After a somewhat nervous start to Hingis’ second comeback, they devastated their foes, who reached the Stanford final last week  but looked totally overwhelmed by an in- synch pair who played smarter and much more inventive yellow ball.

At 32, Hingis remains a remarkable volleyer, perhaps the game’s best, and she returns very accurately and with a fair amount of force from her favored backhand side from the ad court, too. She owns topspin and underspin lobs to die for, and always seems to be the right position, because she has a unique (and learned ability) to read the plays. Hantuchova herself brings a lot to the table with the right partner: a big first serve, hard returns off both wings, competent volleys and laser like passing shots when she’s in position.

So now the question is: can they become the world’s top ranked doubles pair? Much of that is on the Swiss, because she has to maintain her commitment to playing a full schedule. She is set to contest four events — Carlsbad, Toronto, Cincinnati and the US Open as according to her New Haven is out — and says that if they are successful she will continue on.

“If it’s a complete disaster, I would not want to continue, but I hope that’s not the case,” she said. “I don’t have any expectations, but I wouldn’t put myself in this position if I didn’t feel that I couldn’t compete at this level. In [World] Team Tennis I was good enough, but is it good enough to be able compete at this level? We’ll see.”

Anyone who knows Hingis even a little bit realizes what a dogged competitor she is and how much pride she has. I reminded her yesterday that during her second comeback in 2007, when she was fading away in singles, that she said she wouldn’t never just be a double specialist because she saw herself as a singles competitor.

But that was then and this is now. She’s 32 year old and is in terrific shape, but she’s in doubles shape, or World TeamTennis shape if you like, which means no two-and-a-half hour singles grind fests. She does not want to have train for 6-8 hours per day to get herself back into singles shape and figures she can do half of that and be just fine in doubles. So at least now, a singles comeback is out and although she says it’s not in the back if her mind right now (like a doubles return actually was for the past six years), like her friend and doubles partner at the senior Slams, Lindsay Davenport, I think there still remains a possibility (albeit slight) that she puts herself out there in singles again. If she sees there is a possibility that she can make a breakthrough at the big tournament again (say at Wimbledon which is the least physical  of all the majors) she will be very tempted to throw her visor in the ring.

But she won’t this month.

“Not at this point,” she said. “That’s a different world. Even TeamTennis [where she has played singles in shortened format] is brutal. You have to put so much effort into it. Playing tournaments is the easy part, but it’s all the behind the scenes training that people don’t see, the 6-8 hours of training and really the older you get, the harder its gets. I wouldn’t want to come out and play one or two matches and lose in third round. That’s not my type of personality.”

However, when I pressed her on a  ‘never again’ her reply was a laughing: “C’mon, leave me alone.”

What Hingis clearly sees is a wide-open doubles field. The Williams sisters only play the Slams and with Venus’ poor health, they might not be doing that much longer. She doesn’t feel like Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci can overpower her and doesn’t fear well-coordinated yet sometimes inconsistent pair of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova. Katerina Srebotnik and Nadia Petrova are as old as she and the 30-year-old Hantuchova are, and even though Russians Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova have improved a great deal as team,  they cannot match she and Hantuchova’s talent level.

Simply put, Hingis doesn’t fear any regular doubles player.

“It’s different as when we used to play there were so many more singles girls who played doubles: the [Williams] sisters, me Anna [Kournikova] and Lindsay [Davenport],” she said. “There were like six to eight of the  top 10 who played doubles. Now it’s just a few girls in the top 10 who play doubles. There is much more of an opening now.”

Why is Hingis returning? Yes she misses the  competition and yes she loves to play. But perhaps there is another reason that is crystal clear but has not been emphasized as much: she felt a little lost during those weeks and months when she wasn’t around the sport. Perhaps one of the reasons is because her personal life has fallen into a bit of chaos, but she and most of the world experience that on an annual basis so that can’t be all of it. It is largely because tennis – not horseback riding, not commentary, not pushing a clothing line –  really is her life.

“This is where I feel the most comfortable, feel the most natural and this is what I know the best,” she said.

‘Radical’ changes for Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic is going through another coaching change and at this point in her career it would be foolish to think that it will make a massive difference. because she been through enough coaches already and whether she will re-enter the top 5 again is now almost entirely on her.

She didn’t not buy that opinion when I tossed her way on Wednesday, and I can see her reasoning why: if you don’t think that your team is going to make a big difference, than why have one at all?  To me, the answer to that is so you can form a group around you that supports your needs and follows your lead. In a sense, that is what her situation is anyway.

She split with her coach of two years Nigel Sears after Wimbledon, and won’t have a full time coach for the rest of this summer. She is currently traveling with her hitting partner,  Nemanja Konitc (whom apparently does have some input)  a fitness coach, Zlatko Novovic, and a physio, Branko Penic.  She will also work with adidas Player Development coaches Sven Groeneveld (who coached her to the 2008 Roland Garros crown) and Darren Cahill when they are available, which in the Aussie case isn’t going to be that much through the US Open due to his TV obligations.

“That was big change, but I really felt like I needed it because it was good, but I was stuck in the same place and I really needed to make a transition and I needed to hear a fresh voice,” Ivanovic told me. “It was a big change and tough decision but it came both ways.”

Ivanovic is an intelligent woman who spends a lot of times thinking, but she is also very emotional and at times seems to make decisions based on her gut more than her head. Sears is very competent coach and did so some good work with her but in reality, from July 2011 to July 2013, she only improved one ranking place from No. 18 and to No. 17. There were periods during the past two years when she performed much better than she did from mid 2009 to mid 2011, but she has not been a huge factor at the Slam or Premiers on a consistent basis and that’s where she wants to be. She’ll take half the blame for that or perhaps more, but she is right in indicating that it can’t all be laid at her feet if she was trusting his advice.

“It’s always two ways,” she said. “You have your opinions and the other person his own and he wanted to get the best out of me and I’m sure it was frustrating for him that he couldn’t get me to do the things that he wanted. But sometimes you need  a fresh voice and you need someone to influence you better. It was a mutual agreement.”

My suspicion was that after she played such a shockingly bad match in loss to Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon that she hit a tipping point. I also thought that after she pushed Maria Sharapova hard twice in RG warm-ups that she should  have been sorely disappointed with her performance in her  loss to  Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros.  But she says that wasn’t the case.

“Its not a match in particular,” she said.  “I was disappointed in the loss at Wimbledon, but it wasn’t that, it was over period of time and there were a lot of the same things and repetitions and it was good week, bad week and not getting me to where I  wanted to go  I felt like I needed to do something radical.”

The 25 year old’s goal is to be a super elite player again and while she has shown flashes of that since her great 2008, she has not been that competitor consistently. That really frustrated her and combine that with some undisclosed personal problems, after Wimbledon, she took 10 days off of fitness and tennis and went to Spain to be with her family where she hung out with her brother, cooked with her mother and laid by the pool and on the beach.

Now she’s in Carlsbad, back to the drawing board trying to find a way down the road to greatness, which of late has been full of potholes.

“It’s keeping the hard work and working on the confidence and I feel my game has been there, but the confidence hasn’t and physical and mental level hasn’t been there the whole match,” said Ivanovic, who did look impressive in upsetting defending champion Dominica Cibulkova 4-6 6-3 6-2 in the first round. “Getting all that in balance and to keep the comfort level is going to make a big difference.”

But here’s her dilemma and it’s one that most players face: how to keep improving and working the right way with long term goals in mind, while at the same time not getting frustrated with negative results.

“It’s tough, she said. “It’s about finding what works for you.”



Tennis and the Art of Losing

As great as Hingis was, she was 5-7 in Slam finals.

By Richard Osborn

Baseball is a game of failure. Always has been, always will be. Ted Williams, The Splendid Splinter, the last man to hit .400, once confessed, “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of 10 and be considered a good performer.”

Fellow slugger Mickey Mantle concurred, asserting, “During my 18 years, I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

Tennis has its failures, too. After all, there are 127 losers in every Grand Slam draw. Only one player can be crowned the champion. But I