By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
STUTTGART, Germany - Christina McHale has never led off a Fed Cup tie and has never played Andrea Petkovic, but tomorrow that will all change for the 18-year-old, who has been steadily climbing the world rankings.
U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez nominated Melanie Oudin and McHale as her No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, respectively, for the U.S. vs. Germany Fed Cup Playoff in Stuttgart, April 16-17, to be played indoors on red clay at the Porsche Arena.
The winner of the tie keeps its spot in the World Group for 2012, while the loser is then relegated to World Group II next year.
McHale was drawn the tough assignment of playing the opening match of the tie Saturday against Petkovic, the world No. 19, whom German Captain Barbara Rittner nominated as her No. 1 player. In the second singles match, Oudin then faces Julia Goerges, Germany’s No. 2 player, in what will be their second meeting in the last few weeks, as Oudin defeated Goerges in straight sets in a first-round match at the Sony Ericsson Open.
For the second day of play on Sunday, Oudin and Petkovic play the first match, followed by McHale and Goerges, and then the doubles match will take place between Liezel Huber and Vania King of the U.S. and Sabine Lisicki and Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany.
McHale, who just reached a career-high ranking of No. 82 in the world this week, was pleased to be playing the first match for the first time, as it means starting off with no score to think about as she plays her second career Fed Cup match.
"It will be good to start. There won’t be any results yet, so I can just go play and see what happens," she said. "I think each day all of us are getting more used to the surface and conditions. We will just give it our all and see how it goes."
For Petkovic, the world No. 19 and having the best year of her career, she was thrilled to be drawn to play the first match, even if it is against an unfamiliar opponent.
"I actually prefer playing the first match because I always leave a lot of emotion on the match before when my friends are playing and I really like to watch the matches," she said. "It is always tough to play a player for the first time because you never know how the ball feels; it is different watching her on the television than playing her. It is definitely going to be tough in the beginning to get used to it and feel her ball and see how she really plays."
Oudin is very used to playing the second match in Fed Cup as well as Goerges’ style of play since her victory over the German in Miami.
"I feel like we have been practicing really well and we are ready for tough matches this weekend," Oudin said. "Whenever you lose to someone, if you play them again a few weeks later, you want to get revenge on them. She is going to bring some good tennis, so I have to be ready."
In selecting her lineup for this weekend, Fernandez had the option of using King in singles, as well. King, who is 4-2 in doubles in her Fed Cup career, was the last team member to arrive on Wednesday, as a replacement for the injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Fernandez loves having so many options and can always make a lineup switch for Sunday, up to one hour before the start of play for the first singles match and 10 minutes after the first match ends for the second.
"It is great that we have a very versatile team," she said. "Both Melanie and Christina have been playing on the clay and doing well, and everyone was a possibility. So we will start with this lineup. It can always change, but this is what we are going to start with."
The U.S. team hopes to clinch the tie before the doubles match, but either way, both King and Huber will be ready to play. If the tie does come down to doubles, the U.S. would seem to have the advantage, with Huber, the world No. 3 in doubles, and King, the world No. 6, both multiple Grand Slam winners.
"Liezel and I are going to tough it out in doubles no matter what, but our first priority is the team, so I want us to win really fast," King said.
The two have played doubles together in Fed Cup multiple times, including winning the only U.S. point in the team’s 4-1 loss to Belgium in the quarterfinals in February
"If it comes to the deciding doubles match, it means we would have lost two matches by then, so I am really not hoping for any losses," Huber said. "Vania and I will play regardless and fight our hearts out, whether it is a live match or a dead match.
"We are practicing hard. The team has been doing a great job this week, and this is the best team, the best captain, so we are really looking forward to tomorrow for that first ball to be hit," she added.