The U.S. entered each tie of its 2009 Fed Cup season as a slight underdog, yet the team enjoyed its most successful season in years, advancing to the final for the first time since 2003 before falling to Italy.
Now in 2010, the U.S. might still be the slight underdog for its first tie of the year against France as the away team on clay, but it is not the underdog status the U.S. is most eager to change – it is the end-of-the-year result.
Despite the Italians being heavily favored as the hometown team on clay with two top-20 singles players competing, the U.S. was very disappointed to not come home with its first title since 2000. But Feb. 6-7 in Lievin, France, the U.S. gets the chance to take the first steps to the 2010 crown.
U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez leads her team of Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber, Shenay Perry and Bethanie Mattek-Sands against the French squad of Alize Cornet, Julie Coin, Pauline Parmentier and Stephanie Cohen-Aloro in a tie that will be played indoors on clay.
Back in 2003, it was France who defeated the U.S. in the final to win the Fed Cup crown, which was also the last time the two teams met.
Oudin and Huber were on the U.S. team for each of the three ties in 2009, and Oudin will in all likelihood be the team’s No. 1 singles player – as she was for the final against Italy – with the highest ranking at No. 53.
Huber, the co-world No. 1 doubles player, clinched both the quarterfinal and semifinal wins for the U.S. in 2009 over Argentina and the Czech Republic, respectively, in the doubles rubber and is the team’s unofficial leader both on and off the court. With partner Cara Black, the duo most recently reached the 2010 Australian Open final after opening the year with titles in their first two tournaments in Sydney and Auckland.
“We had a disappointing end of the year in Fed Cup (in 2009). I was arrogant. I thought we would take Italy down. I would like a rematch now,” Huber said from the Australian Open in a recent interview for USTA.com. “Fed Cup for me is very special. It is like a Grand Slam or even bigger. I love my captain, I love Mary Joe, I love the team… Hopefully are going to come out with a win (against France), and we are going to have the next tie in the U.S.”
Oudin, 18, made a splash in 2009 with her run to the fourth round of Wimbledon and the quarterfinals of the US Open and is the third-highest ranked American woman behind Venus and Serena Williams. She has never met Cornet and Coin in competition, and they are likely to be France’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players. Oudin was one of the heroes of the quarterfinal win over Argentina last year, coming from behind to win in the fourth singles rubber and send the tie to the doubles match. Most recently, she lost in the first round of the 2010 Australian Open in three sets.
Fernandez usually likes to watch her entire team in practice before making final decisions as to her lineup before the draw ceremony on Friday, and this time she has a choice of either Perry or Mattek-Sands in the No. 2 singles spot and/or to pair with Huber in doubles.
Mattek-Sands, currently ranked No. 154, made her Fed Cup debut for the U.S. in 2009 in the semifinals against the Czech Republic as the team’s No. 1 singles player and ranked inside the top 40 in the world. She was also originally on the roster for the quarterfinals against Argentina but was forced to withdraw due to injury. She went 0-2 in singles but then teamed with Huber to win the doubles match and send the U.S. to the final in a dramatic come-from-behind three-set victory.
Her doubles play was great through 2009 and in the 2010 Australian Open, where she reached the quarterfinals with partner Zi Yan, falling in three sets to eventual champions Venus and Serena Williams. Mattek-Sands is ranked No. 17 in the world in doubles and, now healthy, would seem the most likely candidate to team with Huber for doubles.
Perry, once ranked as high as No. 40 in the world in 2006, battled injuries in 2007 and 2008 and is now on her way back up the rankings. Currently ranked No. 107 in singles, Perry qualified for the 2010 Australian Open, losing to No. 20 Ana Ivanovic in the first round. This will be her first appearance in Fed Cup for the U.S. since 2006, where she played doubles against Germany, and it will possibly be her first time competing in singles.
On the French team, Cornet, ranked as high as No. 11 in February 2009, will likely be the team’s No. 1 singles player. She had a breakthrough year in 2008 but not as successful a 2009 and now sits at No. 51. In her Fed Cup career that spans 2008 and 2009, she is 0-6 and 0-5 in singles.
France was also a victim of Italy’s in 2009, falling to the Italian team in the quarterfinal round and forcing the French into a World Group Playoff to keep their World Group spot. In the playoff, they defeated the Slovak Republic, 3-2.
Mattek-Sands is the only one of the U.S.’s singles players who has faced Cornet, losing to the Frenchwoman in the second round of the 2008 US Open. She is also the only one to have faced Coin, ranked No. 75 in singles and No. 63 in doubles, but not since 2006.
Coin is best known for upsetting then-world No. 1 and top-seed Ana Ivanovic in the second round of the 2008 US Open as a qualifier, then ranked No. 188. She was the lowest-ranked player ever to beat a reigning world No. 1. This will be her first Fed Cup tie.
Parmentier and Cohen-Aloro would seem likely to play doubles, if at all, just based on rankings, as they are the two lower-ranked players at No. 105 and No. 116, respectively. But Captain Nicolas Escude has a few options with not a huge rankings difference between players, and both captains have the option of changing their lineups the day of the matches. Parmentier is competing in her first Fed Cup tie, and this is the first time Cohen-Aloro has played Fed Cup since the title-winning season of 2003.
Overall, the U.S. is 10-1 against France in Fed Cup competition dating back to 1966. The players have changed many times throughout the years, but the U.S.’s goal has not: bring home the title. And this year it starts with improving to 11-1 against France.