February 7, 2010

A Battle of Powerhouses

Okay, I'm not talking about the Super Bowl, which is clearly a battle of the two best teams this year. But rather, at least for now, I'm talking about the first round of Fed Cup action, where last year's finalists -- the U.S. and eventual winners Italy -- have been performing up to the high standards they set for themselves in 2009.

Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone led their country to an easy 4-1 win over the Ukraine while U.S. Open darling Melanie Oudin teamed with Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the same score against France. It was much closer in the Czech Republic where the rubbers were tied before Lucie Hradecka secured the win over Anna-Lena Groenefeld and her German doubles partner.

But what was probably the closest match-up came between two big-hitting teams, with a couple of Grand Slam crowns and former #1 players fighting for their country -- some are on the upswing, some are trying to regain former glory, but both were hungry to advance. Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alisa Kleybanova sought to reclaim their 2008 title in a first round meeting against a Serbian team helmed by Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic.

Now we all know how Ivanovic has been struggling in recent years -- after winning the French Open two years back, she's only won one title at a small-ish tournament in Linz, and has seen her ranking tumble out of the top ten thanks to a series of disappointing showings at the Majors. Jankovic has had a bit more success, winning a few tournaments last year and still, more or less, showing she still has some power in her swing.

On the other side of the court, Kuznetsova, who won in Paris last year, has carried through with that success for the last several months. And Kleybanova, just twenty years old, has beaten Venus Williams, Vera Zvonareva and Jankovic all in the last twelve months. On paper the Russians would clearly be the favorites.

But the score wasn't as much of a run-away as you might expect. Jankovic won both her singles matches and Kleybanova rolled over Ivanovic. So it came down to the deciding doubles rubber -- four women, all of whom are singles specialists, vying for the last spot in the Fed Cup semis.

As it turned out the eventual outcome was as we should have predicted -- Kuznetsova and Kleybanova were nearly flawless in their 6-1, 6-4 victory, reaching the semis for the fourth straight year. They'll meet the U.S. in April for the right to go further, but considering they probably faced the toughest opponent of any of the other three teams to advance, I'd say their chances look pretty good.

In the meantime, I'll turn my attention back to the other grass court. Go Colts!!

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