Russia rules the Fed Cup roost
No matter where you turn in the women’s game today you’re apt to find a Russian woman ruling the day.
Just take a look at the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year. Down to the nitty-gritty of the event, only Serena Williams spoiled the symmetry of an all-Russian semifinal line-up. Williams rebounded from a first-set quarterfinal loss to ship Svetlana Kuznetsova back to Moscow. But the rest of the final four were rounded at by Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina and Vera Zvonareva.
So, it certainly comes as no surprise that when it comes to Fed Cup the team to beat is the team from Russia.
It’s been that way for quite a while now – the Russians took the Fed Cup home four of the last five years, only missing out on the trophy in 2006. There’s a simple formula to the Russian success: An incredible wealth of talent to pool from and each and every player cherishes the opportunity to participate.
At the moment, five of the top 10 players in the world hail from Russia – Safina, Dementieva, Zvonareva, Kuznetsova, and Maria Sharapova. Take your pick, but whichever players Russian Fed Cup Captain Shamil Tarpishev selects to play on any particular squad, they’ll capably bond together for the common cause of a winning performance.
For the upcoming 2009 first round against China P.R., Tarpishev is fielding a team with Dementieva, Kuznetsova, Anna Chakvetadze and Alisa Kleybanova. At the Australian Open, Dementieva and Kuznetsova addressed the importance of playing Fed Cup, a philosophy which clearly leads to the Russians consistently rallying to success.
Dementieva said: “We just have a very good team spirit, I guess. It’s really amazing. It’s such a tough competition between all of us when it comes to the Fed Cup. We can feel and we can play as a team. I think that’s a lot to do with our captain, Shamil, the way he creates the atmosphere during the Fed Cup competition. Sometimes it’s really hard for him because every single player is thinking that she is the best one and she’s the leader of the team. But, somehow, he can organize everything and everyone feels good when we play together.”
Kuznetsova said: “We have so many players and I like that we can switch players, especially because the Fed Cup schedule is so hard. I think this year we are going to switch players around. There are good teams out there, but our girls always agree to play so that’s why we are first. For me, it is the best competition because I like to play on a team, it’s so much fun. It’s like a group and in tennis, you are always by yourself. When you play as a team, especially when we play at home, it’s the best atmosphere and I love being there.”
Although not nominated to the first-round team, Zvonareva broached the subject of whether the Russians are invincible.
“There is no one unbeatable but we definitely feel like a strong team,” Zvonareva said. “We definitely feel like a strong team because we support each other very well. And all of us, we can all play singles and doubles. It makes it very exciting for all of us to practice with each other. Fed Cup is a place we can get together and feel like a team because we’re all on the same schedule, which is very nice. Every country is tough and it depends on who is playing. When the Williams sisters are playing, it’s hard to beat them. When other countries get together, like Ivanovic and Jankovic, it will be tough, but I still think we can make a win.”
While the Russians delight in their dominance, the rest of the nations playing Fed Cup admit to admiring as well as sometimes fearing the Fed Cup powerhouse.
“You need your “A” team,” said U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez, when asked how you challenge the defending champions. “There a team that has so much depth, I think they have four or five players in the top 10. They have so many choices that depending upon who the other team plays they can alter who they’re going to play, which is so nice for them. We played them in Moscow last year and it was closer than we thought and we didn’t have our “A” team. They’re the dominant country at the moment – they’ve got the top ranked players.”
Fernandez firmly believes that Russia’s current stronghold over the Fed Cup is a positive as opposed to a negative for the competition. She cites the fact that the United States once owned the competition, winning the title 17 times, although their last success was in 2000, as proof that domination can translate to motivation.
“I think it’s good,” Fernandez said. “When you have someone ahead of the game like that it makes you want to improve, it makes you want to get better and strive to pull off the upset. The U.S. had that position for an awfully long time and look what happened; other countries got better. It might take time but, hopefully, we’ll get the Cup back.”
New French Fed Cup captain Nicolas Escude knows that a possible semifinal outing against Russia would be his country’s fate if they beat Italy in the first round. “Russia has the best team because they have the best players in the world,” Escude said. “They won the last few years so they’re the best team at the moment. But no one is unbeatable.”
Clearly, the Serbians with Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic anchoring their team can be considered a strong contender for eventual Fed Cup honors. For now, however, the duo has to play Serbia out of the World Group II to World Group I. But that seems a plausible likelihood.
Questioned about the Russian invasion of the Fed Cup, Ivanovic chose to discuss the merits of Serbia becoming a viable squad to one day dethrone Russia.
“I think we have a very good team,” Ivanovic said. I think we have a very good possibility to win the Fed Cup. There are a lot of good players and teams out there. But we have to, again, work our way through the World Group to even be in a chance to play against them. Hopefully, we can take it away from them.”