U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez led her team of Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Liezel Huber and CoCo Vandeweghe against Italy in the 2010 Fed Cup Final Nov. 6-7 in San Diego, Calif. She shared her thoughts exclusively with USTA.com in the days leading up to the tie as well as during the competition.
My whole team played their hearts out in this final. I am so proud of this team; what a great effort from them to get to another final. They worked so hard during the week, they really came together and each player competed extremely hard. That is what you want to see from your team - Bethanie had a tough time yesterday in the second set with the cramps and kept playing and today Melanie had to go in earlier than she expected and for her to come out with that kind of game and attitude was very inspiring to watch.
CoCo played her heart out and did a lot of good things out there against Pennetta. Obviously she is feeling what it is like to play for her country when you don’t come through and it shows you how much she cares that she is so upset about it. Melanie was in the same position a year ago in Reggio Calabria. Those are the qualities you look for in young players and that is why I think CoCo has such a bright future.
I snuck Billie Jean King into the locker room before the matches today. I said ‘Billie, you have to come talk.’ She reminded everyone that in her first Fed Cup in 1963, they were down four match points and they came back to win and yes, it hasn’t been done coming back from an 0-2 deficit so let this be the day we make history. Just looking at Billie you get inspired. She told CoCo and Melanie to go for it. It is just such a thrill to have her; she was my Fed Cup and Olympic captain, the person I look up to. She is so wonderful, passionate and inspirational.
For our team this whole year, being the underdog almost every tie and finding a way to get the final has been amazing. Now we start again in a few months. We will have our hands full in Belgium in February but I am not going to think about it too soon. I will wait a little bit before I start stressing about the first round again!
I thought CoCo did a great job out there today in the first match against Francesca. For her first time out there playing a Fed Cup match, I thought she handled the occasion well and her nerves well. She did everything I asked her to do. I thought it was a little unlucky not to get on the board a little faster. She started with two big serves but did not hold that first service game. I think if she holds that one, maybe she lets loose a little sooner. But Schiavone served very well. It was tough for CoCo to get involved in her service games.
Having said that, CoCo fought her way back in the second. I was proud of the things she tried to do on the court and the plays she tried to make. It is a learning experience and I think we are going to see more from CoCo.
Bethanie was then up next against Flavia. She was down 5-1 but I kept thinking, it seems like she should be up. She had game points in almost every game she served. It was 5-1 but it should have been like 3-all or maybe she should have been up 4-2. She did a great job to stay in the match with Flavia and played great to up 6-5 and had a set point, which was obviously a critical time for us to win that first set and get a little momentum going. Then unfortunately she started cramping early in the second set. But that was the critical match today; it was a match that could have turned things around for us.
For tomorrow, it is a little wait and see for the lineup. It depends on how Bethanie is feeling tonight and how she wakes up in the morning because she has been a little sick this week. If she is ready to go then she will start it off against Schiavone as schedule, learning a little bit from what we saw today and if she can’t, then Melanie will start it off.
By far this was the best draw we have had since I have been captain. We all become little kids again. What a great idea to have it at Sea World. Being able to see the whales and play with the dolphins, it is just a treat and a lot of fun.
My children, Nicholas and Isabella, came to Sea World today as well. It is their first time at Fed Cup and they are very excited to be here. They are having a great time and enjoyed petting the dolphins.
I decided on the lineup for the weekend last night. I went through the matchups, all the possibilities and who had to play who on the first day. Bethanie has been playing well all week; she played in the final in Quebec and is feeling pretty confident so I put her in as our No. 1. As No. 1, she plays Pennetta, who is the No. 2 for Italy this year. Schiavone is their No. 1 now so we were trying to think between Melanie and CoCo who matched up better against her for the first day. We thought CoCo, being taller, handled the spin a little bit better and maybe get some free points on her serve. Had it been Pennetta the one we were more worried about, it might have been Melanie to play the first day instead. That is we are going to start but things can always change.
CoCo was excited to hear she was going to play tomorrow. From day one, I tell my players you have to prepare like you are playing. Even when we have young ones with us, I tell them the same thing. So CoCo was ready for that possibility.
The week goes fast and we have had such a good time in San Diego. It is long days on the court with practice hours but at the same time, it seems to zoom by. We are ready; we are excited to start playing tomorrow and see how well everything goes.
This afternoon after practice the whole team went over to the Barnes Tennis Clinic in San Diego and had the opportunity to hit some balls with hundreds of young kids from the area. It was a great turnout and I was very impressed. Almost every child could really follow the ball; I was very impressed with the consistency and technique of everybody.
It is fantastic to see so many young kids excited about playing tennis. Obviously I have a passion for tennis, it is something I have done my whole life and I think that it is so good at any age, at any level and I think the 10-and-under tennis format the USTA introduced a couple years ago is really great. Kids are having success early on with the small racquets, the low-compression balls, the smaller courts with the lower nets and all of that is really positive because it will hopefully keep kids in the game longer.
As for our team today, Liezel practiced early in the morning and Melanie, Bethanie and CoCo did a lot of 2-on-1s. Then we played a lot of sets in the afternoon as well as some doubles. So we had a long day, it was a grinds but it was good and everyone worked really hard.
The girls are getting their massages now that they are finished practice for the day. We did some of our team-tradition charades already last night. Everyone is a little tired but some more charades might be in store tonight.
I think everyone is so happy to be back together, being in a Fed Cup Final is so exciting and being at home is just the cherry on top of the pie. It really makes a difference – we love playing at home. Everyone is relaxed, happy, having fun and they all have such great chemistry. It has been a great two days in San Diego so far as a team.
It gives me a great deal of comfort to know that Melanie, Bethanie and Liezel were all healthy, all supporting the team, the country and Fed Cup. It is a great peace of mind to have that and knowing how well they work together, how much they try and they really give it their all every single and every single practice and for me it just a dream come true.
One of the hardest things in the beginning (of having a new team and becoming captain) was having different players, learning their personalities and I feel I know them a lot better now in my second year. And even with CoCo, I feel like I know her really well, I have had her on the team twice before. She was not on the official roster – she was practicing with the team as a Future Fed Cupper – but to me whether you play, whether you are on the official four person roster, you are on my team. I have been following her career, she has played with all the team members and they know her well. It is a great fit immediately so I don’t feel there is that adjustment with having a different player on the team.