By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
For the fourth consecutive tie, Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber will compete together as part of the U.S. Fed Cup Team, and this time the core trio will be joined by Vania King when the U.S. takes on Belgium in the 2011 Quarterfinals.
U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez announced her team via conference call for the tie, which will be played in Antwerp, Belgium on an indoor hardcourt at the Sportpaleis Antwerp February 5-6.
The U.S. team is no stranger to being the underdog and will once again be in that position against a Belgian team that includes current world No. 3 and reigning US Open champion Kim Clijsters and world No. 24 Yanina Wickmayer. Seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin was originally on the roster as well but announced her retirement from professional tennis this week as she continues to deal with an elbow injury.
Fernandez has a very versatile lineup for this tie with Mattek-Sands, Oudin and King all capable of playing singles and doubles.
"I have the same core group returning with Bethanie, Melanie and Liezel and Vania King will be joining us again," Fernandez said. "She has been on teams before and we are excited to have her return. We have our work cut out for us in Belgium against the top players but we are going to give it our best shot. I have great faith in the team and its capabilities.
"They are two of the best players to play the game," she added of Clijsters and Henin. "To me, Fed Cup is very different than a regular tour tournament. You really approach it as one unique match and try to do everything you can to disrupt all the great things that those players do."
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams was originally going to compete in the tie but injured her hip during the 2011 Australian Open that forced her to retire from her third round match and will also prevent her from competing in Belgium.
Oudin, Mattek-Sands and Huber led the U.S. to its second consecutive Fed Cup final last year, where it fell to Italy 3-1 in San Diego, Calif. Italy also defeated the U.S. to win the 2009 Fed Cup Final in Reggio Calabria, Italy, a team that included Oudin, Huber and King.
Mattek-Sands is likely to be the No. 1 singles player for the U.S. with a current world ranking of No. 48. She started 2011 with a bang, teaming with John Isner to win the Hopman Cup for the U.S. and then reaching the final in Hobart. She lost a three-set match in the opening round of the Australian Open in singles but reached the doubles quarterfinals with partner Meghann Shaughnessy.
She has teamed with Huber, the world No. 3 doubles player, to clinch the semifinal tie in the doubles rubber the past two years, first against the Czech Republic in 2009 and then against Russia in 2010. Against Russia she was the hero of the U.S. team as she became the first player in U.S. Fed Cup history to win consecutive live rubbers to clinch a tie, first winning her fourth singles match to keep the U.S. alive and then teaming with Huber to win in doubles.
"Bethanie had a great run down here in Australia, winning Hopman Cup with John Isner and getting to the final in a warm-up tournament (Hobart) before," Fernandez said. "She had a tough first round match at the Australian Open against (Arantxa) Rus. She was down a set and fought really hard and came back started up the match in the third and had a tough time closing it out. She has been playing a lot of tennis, which is good. She's match tough."
Oudin, 19 and ranked No. 63, is playing in her seventh consecutive Fed Cup tie for the U.S., and overall has a solid 5-2 record. In the 2010 final, she defeated current world No. 7 Francesca Schiavone in straight sets to keep the U.S. hopes alive. In the semis against Russia she went 1-1 in singles and was undefeated in the 2010 quarterfinal against France.
King is competing on the U.S. Fed Cup Team for the first time since the 2009 final but is no stranger to Fed Cup, having played 10 career matches, including being the U.S. team’s No. 1 singles player in the 2008 semifinals against Russia. She is currently the world No. 4 doubles player, having won the doubles title at both Wimbledon and the US Open last year and is ranked No. 88 in singles.
Huber is the team’s unofficial leader and anchor, having represented the U.S. in now eight consecutive ties since becoming a U.S. citizen in 2007. She has won four Grand Slam doubles titles and has won five of her six matches as part of the U.S. Fed Cup Team. As such an accomplished doubles player, she can team with anyone for a Fed Cup match.
Fernandez usually likes to watch all of her players in practice in the days leading up to the tie before deciding on a lineup, which will be announced at the official draw ceremony on February 4.
"The nice thing about having Vania on the team is she is very versatile, she can play both singles and doubles. I do make my decision sort of towards the end (of the week)," she said regarding her lineup. "We will obviously just have to play it by ear. During the week we will have everyone practice doubles with each other because you have to be prepared for any situation."
The U.S. and Belgium last met in Fed Cup in Delray Beach, Fla. in 2007, a tie the U.S. won 5-0. Belgium won a Fed Cup play-off against Estonia 3-2 in 2010 to regain its spot in the World Group for 2011.