I watched every moment of the doubles match between Liezel Huber and Vania King representing the US, vs. Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld playing for Germany. The result was already a foregone conclusion. In the absence of the Williams sisters and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the US was unable to avoid being kicked out of World Group. We are no longer in the top tier of the Federation Cup.
So I watched this last match keenly – not because it would change any aspect of the outcome, but because I hoped that the US would at least redeem some last minute glory by winning a point. For a minute there was hope as the team of King and Huber gamely won the first set. But I’ve mentioned before that Julia Georges is a plucky player. And she brought all of her positive energy to her partnership with the talented Groenefeld. They won the last two sets, closing out the match by breaking Vania King.
No doubt this disaster of a failure will drum up a slew of criticism about the length and rigor of the pro tennis schedule. Mind you, the length of the season is the same for both winners and losers. In my opinion, this loss has nothing to do with the demandingness of the tennis schedule. It has something to do with the fact that in the absence of the Williams sisters and Mattek-Sands, the US Fed Cup team could not deliver. And it has everything to do with the fact that the US players never really looked like a team.
I think that it was very clever of Venus Williams to make herself a part of the group going to Stuttgart, although she was unable to play due to injury. Had she not gone, no doubt she would once again be criticized for not adequately supporting Fed Cup. But Venus was often caught on camera looking at her cell-phone. She never really seemed to be a part of the team. Perhaps the only thing her physical presence might accomplish then is some silencing of the critics.
In the meantime, Serena has continued parading herself in bikinis up and down Miami beaches, looking very much to me as if she has had breast reduction surgery. Compare photos of her from a year or so ago with her current Miami appearances (see photo below), and her breasts look remarkably smaller (to my eyes). Now I’m finally getting why there have been whispers. And I probably have egg all over my face for defending her. lol
The unavailability of the Williams sisters resulted in a team that was destroyed by their opponents, 5-0. And I’m not intending to dismiss the effort of both Oudin and McHale. In fact, I felt that Oudin would have a chance of beating Georges because of her recent win against her in Miami. But both McHale and Oudin found themselves simply outplayed. At the very least, the experience should be a good one for McHale, giving her an idea of what is expected at the pro level and hopefully inspiring her to do what she needs to do to play at this level.
However, I believe that the biggest difference between the Germans and the Americans was neither talent nor ability. Both teams were young and the Americans had the edge in doubles experience. Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki, and Anna-Lena Groenefeld each have only one WTA singles title to their name. Julia Goerges leads that group with three WTA doubles titles.
But Vania King has 12 doubles titles in addition to her one WTA singles trophy. And Liezel Huber boasts a mind-boggling total of 44 doubles titles, is a finalist on every Slam surface with two mixed doubles Slam wins, and is a former #1 doubles player (currently ranked # 3). With this team, Mary Jo Fernandez had every reason to feel optimistic. But Mary Jo does not seem to radiate optimism. Her body language always seems to broadcast worry and concern. That frown on her face is at risk of becoming a permanent wrinkle.
Compare this with the German team coach, Barbara Rittner, (herself a former Fed Cup player who with Steffi Graf helped Germany win the title in 1987 and 1992), whose body language remained positive, proud, and encouraging. About her team, Rittner would later say, “We have a lot of quality in the team and they all encourage each other”. In other words, the German women seemed to genuinely like each other. They seemed truly bonded together as a team. The Americans, not so much.