U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez led her team of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber and Vania King against Belgium in the 2011 Fed Cup Quarterfinal in Antwerp. She is wrote an exclusive blog for USTA.com before and during the tie, which Belgium won 4-1.
Sunday, February 6
Belgium was the better team this weekend with Kim and Yanina both playing so well in singles. We entered the day down 0-2 and in the first match, Bethanie battled Kim for over two hours. I thought Bethanie did a fantastic job in the first set. It was great tennis, and she was able to sustain her high level of play. In the tiebreak, she went the distance to win 12-10 and that is not easy against Kim to pull that out and she did. I was really proud of the way she was able to do that. I think it took a lot out of her though and Kim even took it to another level in the second and third sets, which was expected from a player like her. Kim went on to win 6-7 (10), 6-2, 6-1 and clinch the tie for Belgium. The Belgian team was just too good this weekend. Yanina then defeated Melanie in the fourth singles match before Vania and Liezel played a great doubles match to defeat Kirsten and An-Sophie 6-3, 7-5.
As a whole, we had another fantastic week as a team. I really look forward to the Fed Cup weeks. We have so fun, the team really bonds well, the players really support each other and there is great chemistry. Having Vania join us this week was fantastic as she had not been on the team since the 2009 final against Italy. She was very supportive and as you all saw today, so good in doubles. It was great having Lauren Davis with us as a practice partner as well. I think we are going to see a lot from her. She practiced really hard and is very, very good and has a very promising future. It was just another great experience for everybody and we will just keep going.
I am proud of the whole team. Fed Cup is about competing and doing the best that you can. It is about learning and getting better and I think they have come a long way. When I first had Melanie on the team for my first tie as captain back in 2009 against Argentina, she was ranked about 150 in the world, playing a lot of qualifying rounds and she has come so far in two years. Bethanie had hip surgery and was out of the top 100 as well and now she is in the top 50. Liezel has obviously been the rock and is permanently at the top of women’s doubles and then there is Vania who in one year won two Grand Slam doubles titles. It is just so much fun to see them grow, develop and improve and I think there is a big crop coming behind them as well that is hopefully going to make a big breakthrough this year.
Thanks to everyone for their support this weekend. We will be back again in April!
Saturday, February 5
Today we found ourselves down 0-2 to Belgium after Kim Clijsters defeated Melanie and Yanina Wickmayer defeated Bethanie on the first day of play. I thought both Melanie and Bethanie competed extremely hard and give it all they had today, which is all you ask for.
I think it was a great experience for Melanie playing against Kim. She was nervous in the beginning of the match because she really looks up to Kim, who was one of her idols growing up. I thought Melanie settled down and played really well in the second set and really earned her points. She made Kim work hard to earn her points as well and to close out rallies. It taught Melanie a lot about what it takes to consistently play matches at the top level and also about her own game and what she needs to do to play at that level as well.
With Bethanie’s match against Yanina, I thought she played well in the second set and had opportunities to win it. She had opportunities and on this level when you have them, you can’t afford not to take them. When the door is open, you have to get in there. Bethanie had a set point in the second set that Yanina was able to save and then held on to win the game. I thought Yanina played really well on the big points in the tiebreak and whenever she needed to really raise her game.
For tomorrow, Bethanie plays Kim in the opening match and then Melanie plays Yanina before the doubles match between Liezel and Vania and Kirsten Flipkens and An-Sophie Mestach. It will be an uphill battle for us down 0-2 but we will go out and fight and do the best we can!
Friday, February 4
Today was the official draw ceremony of the tie where Sabine Appelmans and I announced our lineups for this weekend’s tie. I made my decisions last night and decided to go with the rankings and put Bethanie in the No. 1 singles spot and Melanie in the No. 2 singles spot with Vania and Liezel for doubles. I think everyone is ready; we have had a really good week of practice. Melanie and Bethanie have been there quite a few times so they know what to expect, especially in an away tie. We are looking forward to the start of play tomorrow!
Belgian lineup was just what we thought it was going to be with Kim Clijsters in the top spot and Yanina Wickmayer the second singles player. Bethanie plays first against Wickmayer tomorrow and then Melanie plays Clijsters. Melanie was happy about that she is playing second. I didn’t really make much of a difference for me who started but I am glad it worked out the way Mel wanted. The first match is a big one; it kind of sets the tempo and feel for the rest of the tie so we are going to go for it right away.
I think the keys for both Bethanie and Melanie are tomorrow are going to be dealing with the crowd – over 10,000 people are expected each day – which is going to be the biggest crowd we have played in front of, as well as just worrying about themselves and what they can control. They need to try to make the right plays from their sides of the court and that is really all you can do.
Everyone wish us luck for this weekend!
Thursday, February 3
Tomorrow is the official draw ceremony where the Belgian captain, Sabine Appelmans, and I will announce our lineups for this weekend’s play. I have already decided who will be my singles and doubles players and we just had our individual meetings with the women tonight to let them know but everyone else will have to wait until tomorrow to find out who is playing in what spot.
But of course you have to be ready for anything and any situation and things can change during the course of the weekend. I think as of now, from what Sabine has said - we had our captain’s meeting yesterday - it seems it will be Kim Clijsters first for them and then Yanina Wickmayer for singles but I am not 100 percent sure so we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out.
Tonight we had the official dinner and we have a tradition on our team that the Fed Cup rookie has to give a speech. This time, Lauren Davis, a top junior who came as a practice partner, was the only rookie so she had the honor of giving a speech. I thought she was very good even though she was a little nervous.
I waited until yesterday to tell her about the traditional rookie speech because I knew I would get her a little stressed so I thought I would wait as long as I could. She had time to prepare and was very mature about it. She said ‘I got it, I am going to practice a few things.’ Then tonight when we were sitting at the table, we were thinking if she should incorporate a word or what she should do to make the speech funny so we decided since it was Vania’s 22nd birthday, how about we get her up there and have her sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. Lauren said ‘I can do that’ and it was great – the whole room joined her in singing to Vania!
Wednesday, February 2
We had some great full team practices today with a bunch of really good hits and we played some doubles in the afternoon, which was a lot of fun. Everyone was mixed up in doubles pairings as usual. Liezel partnered with Bethanie first and then played with Vania. Melanie was in on it too – everyone who could play was out on the court!
After our first practice we had our pre-draw press conference. I thought it went well; there were no big surprises with any questions. Although when I went to the captain’s meeting in the afternoon, Justine was still on their roster, so I was curious about that but Sabine Appelmans, the Belgian captain, switched her out right away and we know An-Sophie Mestach, the top junior player in the world, is the one who replaced her.
Sabine and I have always been very friendly. We played on the WTA Tour together a bunch and she now has two children ages nine and six, just like I do, so it was nice catching up with her. I do see her at the French Open each year; she does some TV work so I usually get to see her in Paris.
It turns out we are actually the only two female captains of teams in the World Group right now. It just happens the other one is someone I have known for a long time, which is pretty cool.
Tomorrow we have a few practice sessions before the official dinner in the evening, so I will continue to see how well everyone is doing and what matchups I like before making my final lineup decisions for Friday’s draw ceremony.
Tuesday, February 1
The whole U.S. Fed Cup Team has now arrived in Antwerp, Belgium as we prepare to face the Belgian team this weekend in our first tie of 2011. The jet lag is a little tough as three of us came from Melbourne, myself included, so it takes awhile to adjust. The rest of the team had just been home for a few days and had to set and reset their body clocks as well so everyone is in the same boat.
Bethanie was the last team member to arrive; she got to Antwerp this morning. She did well at the Australian Open – she made the women’s doubles quarterfinals and mixed semifinals - so she got to go home first to unpack and repack before coming here. She just worked out today but everyone else had a great first day of practice just trying to loosen up and get in the groove.
It is seems so quickly that the new year starts and it is time for Fed Cup again. We played in the Fed Cup Final in San Diego against Italy just three months ago. With the Fed Cup calendar, you play can three ties really close together – from the final one year through the semifinals the next – and then there is a big break between the semis April and the final in November. But we love it, we enjoy it and it is great when you get here.
Justine Henin was originally on the Belgian Fed Cup roster and I think it was a surprise for everyone that she announced her retirement during the Australian Open. Unfortunately I guess her elbow is really bad. The Belgians are still such a tough team with or without Justine. She made it that much tougher, but they still are pretty stacked with Kim Clijsters leading the way. However, we are usually the underdog so nothing has changed. We like the challenge and it is about taking advantage of opportunities and trying to compete the best we can this weekend.