April 20, 2015

Around the World

The ladies of the WTA were in action, literally, all across the globe this weekend -- with Fed Cup semis and World Group rounds taking place from Montreal to Sochi, Italy to Japan, and a full tournament going down in Bogota, there were few parts of the world who didn't get in on the game. And things got interesting all over the place.

In the higher stakes Fed Cup action -- where teams were playing for a spot in November's final -- the Czechs were aiming for their fourth run to the championship in five years, and they were quick to prove their worth. Underappreciated Lucie Safarova, got her team off to a strong lead, beating France's Caroline Garcia in three sets, and stalwart Petra Kvitova, playing her first matches since February, gave them some breathing room with a win over always tricky Kristina Mladenovic. She followed up with another defeat of Garcia, giving the Czechs an insurmountable lead and securing their place as a real force in the women's game.

Things did not go so smoothly in Russia, though -- playing against a tough German team, the four-time champions got off to a quick start with both Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova giving the home team an early edge. But Miami semifinalist Andrea Petkovic and a resurgent Angelique Kerber subbed in on Sunday to even the score and make the doubles rubber that much more important. But the Russians got momentum back on their side when it counted -- Pavs teamed up with defending U.S. Open doubles champ Elena Vesnina for a straight set win, sending their team back to the final. It'll be a rematch of the 2011 championship, and a chance for Russia to grab their first Fed Cup since 2008. And something tells me the way these two teams are playing, it's going to be a fight to the finish.

There was plenty of action in the consolation rounds this weekend, too, and a couple results that may surprise you. Italy, looking to get back into World Group action after losing to France in February, took on a tough U.S. team led, of course, by Serena Williams who hasn't lost a Tour-level match all year. Camila Giorgi put up a fight in the first set against the world #1 but ultimately fell short in the second. But Sara Errani, struggling a bit in recent months and back out of the top ten in her singles ranking, surprisingly trounced Lauren Davis, who was coming off a big win over Eugenie Bouchard a few weeks ago. The Italian even looked good against Serena in her reverse singles match, taking her first set off the multiple-Major champion since 2009. While the American did manage the win, Flavia Pennetta came out for the fourth rubber and leveled the score with an easy win over Christina McHale. She then paired with Errani in doubles, dropping just three games to Serena and Alison Riske, doling out Williams' first ever loss of any kind in Fed Cup. It's tough to tell whether that or the return to the top tier is more meaningful.

Things went down to the wire in Poland, too, but the big surprise there was not necessarily the result, but who was on court. Martina Hingis -- now both the youngest and oldest player to represent Switzerland -- took to the singles circuit for the first time since 2007 -- and though she lost both ties she played, one somewhat unexpectedly to Aga Radwanska, the other in a tight match against her sister Urszula, she may have given us a glimpse into what more we can expect from her this year. But the Hall of Famer was far from the only bright spot in this tie -- a surging Timea Bacsinszky rounded out the Swiss squad, beating both Radwanska sisters and scoring her third top-ten win of the year. She then teamed up with little-known Viktorija Golubic in doubles to close out the win, putting the Swiss back in World Group play for the first time since 2004.

And as exciting as the Fed Cup ties were this weekend, there was actual hardware being awarded in Colombia, and the ladies there really gave us something to talk about. Top seed Elina Svitolina looked on point in early goings, but ended up losing in straight sets in the semis, while Monica Puig, one of the standout youngsters from the 2014 season, fell a round earlier in the quarters. Both their vanquishers, though, made it all the way to Sunday's final -- now-world #56 Yaroslava Shvedova, reaching her first singles final since 2007 and triple-digit ranked Teliana Pereira, playing just her second WTA-level main draw of the year. But the Brazilian wasn't daunted by the task at hand -- having already defeated one-time French Open champ Francesca Schiavone in her opener, she went on to defeat Svitolina and then took out Shvedova, never dropping a set all week. The win, a milestone for the twenty-six year old workhorse, got her back into the top hundred, pushing her to a career high #81 in the world. It's still a long way off from the sport's elite, but might just serve notice to all those who face her this clay court season.

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