Each day this week we will be casting our memory back over 2013 to bring you the best moments from another fantastic year in Fed Cup by BNP Paribas’ rich history.
It had been a long time coming, and it took the captaincy of Amelie Mauresmo to make it happen, but 2013 saw the return of Marion Bartoli to the French Fed Cup team after an absence of nine years from the competition.
Alize Cornet and Marion Bartoli (FRA)Bartoli, who won the 2013 Wimbledon singles title earlier this year before stunning the tennis world by announcing her retirement in August, had been scheduled to make her long-awaited return to the French fold for the first round tie against Germany in February.
However, illness ruled out her participation against Julia Goerges and co, so fans had to wait until the World Group II play-offs against Kazakhstan in April to see the then world No. 14 don the red, white and blue tracksuit of the French team.
Bartoli didn’t disappoint once she did take to the court, with two comprehensive victories over Galina Voskoboeva and Yaroslava Shvedova to set up the platform on which France could build its 4-1 triumph against Kazakhstan to maintain its place in the Top 16 nations in the world.
Her return may have been short-lived, but her influence on the younger members of the French team is sure to have had a lasting impact.
Top 5 moments of 2013 - Lepchenko's amazing debut
We take a look back at the best moments of what was another fantastic year for Fed Cup by BNP Paribas – at No. 4 is Varvara Lepchenko’s fantastic debut against Italy
As debuts go, it’s hard to get much better than Varvara Lepchenko’s first Fed Cup appearance. The 27-year-old resident of Pennsylvania almost single-handedly pulled off a famous upset against the team that would go on to win the title in 2013.
USA and Italy are no strangers to one another in recent years, with the Europeans having defeated the North Americans in back-to-back Fed Cup finals in 2009-10 and so it was that the two nations found themselves drawn against one another again at the start of the year.
With home advantage and a full-strength squad, the Italians went into the tie as firm favourites, especially playing on their beloved red clay, but Lepchenko refused to roll over and got off to an electric start in her first Fed Cup tie.
Not only did she battle back from a set down against Roberta Vinci on the opening day of the World Group first round tie in Rimini, but she also gave her team an unlikely lead on day two with a straight sets victory over Sara Errani in the duel of the No. 1s.
Such was her level of play, US captain Mary Joe Fernandez named Lepchenko to compete in the decisive doubles rubber alongside Liezel Huber. The fairytale finish was not meant to be, however, as Errani and Vinci proved too strong but that takes nothing away from a standout solo performance from Lepchenko.
Top 5 moments of 2013 - Canada and Poland promoted
We take a look back at the best moments of what was another fantastic year for Fed Cup by BNP Paribas – at No. 3 is the return of Canada and Poland to the top flight.
Starting the year in Zone Group I there is only ever one intention – to get into World Group II. Making that a reality is a whole different kettle of fish.
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)First of all there is the tricky task of negotiating the week-long Zone Group events, where even the best teams have come unstuck, before playing in a best-of-five rubbers World Group II play-off in what can be a far flung destination.
Two teams that navigated their way out of zonals and into the top 16 nations in 2013 were Canada and Poland.
Let’s start with the Canadians. As well as it being a fine year for the team as a whole it was also a rather splendid 2013 for the shining light of the North American team – Eugenie Bouchard.
The 19-year-old former Junior Wimbledon champion was undefeated in four singles rubbers in Americas Zone Group I and was instrumental in the success of the Canadians in the play-offs against Ukraine.
Despite suffering an injury in the opening singles match of the World Group II play-off against Elina Svitolina (a match that she only just lost 67(8) 63 62), Bouchard bounded back on the Sunday to win her reverse singles rubber and then teamed up with Sharon Fichman to clinch the decisive point.
If Canada is to have any hope of maintaining its place among the top nations they will be reliant on more performances like this from the talented Bouchard.
Another player who was key to her team’s fortunes in 2013 was Agnieszka Radwanska. The popular Pole played six singles and two doubles (with her sister Urszula) and went undefeated all year.
Poland has been battling to get back into the big time since 2011 and with Radwanska leading the team there is every chance they will earn promotion once more to move into the World Group in 2015.
Radwanska was in fine form in the play-offs against Belgium and made light work of Alison van Uytvanck before sealing a tough victory over Kirsten Flipkens to win the first two points for the eastern Europeans.
If Polish captain Thomas Wiktorowski can ensure his famous siblings continue to play, next year could be even better.
Top 5 moments of 2013 - Vinci v Panova
We take a look back at the best moments of what was another fantastic year for Fed Cup by BNP Paribas – at No. 2 is the tense opening rubber in the final between Roberta Vinci and Alexandra Panova.
It’s fair to say that this year’s Fed Cup Final went according to plan inasmuch as the Italians won 4-0 in front of a vocal home crowd at the Tennis Club Cagliari.
It’s also true that the opening rubber of this year’s showpiece stunned everyone – not least Roberta Vinci – and proved that ranking truly doesn’t mean anything when it comes to coping with the pressures of team tennis.
Conceding a ranking deficit of 123 places, Alexandra Panova had seemed almost blasé when asked in her pre-match press conference whether she believed she could defeat Vinci in the opening rubber.
“I have to play my best I guess, just like every day,” said the Russian with a straight face. "I know I can do it and we’ll see.”
What followed as the players did battle on the clay court in Cagliari was the exact re-enactment of Panova’s summary of how she foresaw herself playing.
All except for one minor detail. Match point.
Panova, through a combination of brutal groundstrokes and errors from Vinci, raced into a 75 5-2 lead and much to the surprise of everyone in Sardinia she found herself with three match points.
It’s an oft used phrase that what separates the best players is not the level of skill or the ability to hit winners, it’s what is between the ears and nowhere was this more evident than in the Fed Cup Final.
With a total of four chances to clinch an unlikely win and give an unfancied Russian team a 1-0 lead, Panova simply could not close out victory and went on to lose 57 75 86 in three hours 13 minutes.
Vinci’s disbelief at winning the match was only equalled by Panova’s disappointment. Hopefully the Russian will take confidence rather than consolation from the result and come back fighting in 2014.
Top 5 moments of 2013 - Russia and Sweden's incredible comebacks
We take a look back at the best moments of what was another fantastic year for Fed Cup by BNP Paribas – at No. 1 is Russia and Sweden’s comebacks from 0-2 down.
It has happened just six times in history and yet this year there were two separate occasions where teams fought back from losing the opening two rubbers to win the tie 3-2.
Let’s start with Russia’s fantastic revival against Slovak Republic in the World Group semifinals in April.
As hosts, Russia went into their clash with the Slovaks full of confidence. They had a strong team led by Maria Kirilenko and were up against a Slovak side that included the out-of-form Daniela Hantuchova.
The first day was all about the visitors, however, as Hantuchova proved why she is an Australian Open semifinalist with a 62 64 victory over Kirilenko, after Dominika Cibulkova had battled past Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 57 61 64.
Day two was a totally different affair. Kirilenko found the kind of form that has seen her rise into the Top 10 this year and kept her team alive with a 75 61 win against Cibulkova in the battle of the No. 1 singles players to leave the stage set for Hantuchova to clinch the tie.
Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev rolled the dice and tinkered with his team, bringing in the fresh Ekaterina Makarova to contest the fourth rubber and the move proved genius.
Lefthander Makarova caused problems for Hantuchova and found herself forcing a decisive fifth after she defeated the Slovak 63 46 64.
Both players who had played that fourth rubber were then called back to contest the doubles with Makarova and Elena Vesnina going up against Cibulkova and Hantuchova.
The result was heartbreaking for the Slovaks who let slip a 2-0 lead on the opening day and a chance to reach a first Fed Cup final since 2002.
For the Russians the joy was palpable. Makarova had shown herself to be the hero of the hour and together with Vesnina danced with delight after clinching the doubles rubber 46 63 61 and with it the tie 3-2.
The second example of the 0-2 comeback came in the World Group II first round in Buenos Aires last February.
Argentina were hosting Sweden at Parque Roca and on paper this one looked like it was always going to be close.
The South Americans were led from the front by Paula Ormaechea on her favoured clay against a Swedish team that included Sofia Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson.
The first day saw the hosts take a 2-0 lead after Ormaechea defeated Larsson 63 60 and Florencia Molinero made a mockery of her ranking to overcome Sofia Arvidsson 63 26 61.
The Swedish team celebratingFacing a huge challenge didn’t deter the Swedes and they fought their way back into the tie in part due to an unfortunate injury to Argentina’s No. 1.
With the score one-set all and 3-2 to Arvidsson, Ormaechea tore a ligament and couldn’t stand the pain, retiring with tears in her eyes and repeatedly apologising to the home fans.
That set the stage for the turnaround. Larsson played to her level to defeat Molinero 63 62 before the Swedish duo of Arvidsson and Larsson defeated Maria Irigoyen and Mailen Auroux 64 64 to complete the comeback.