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Monday, April 22, 2019

Wk.16- Liberté, égalité...and Ash Bartý

Just another Fed Cup weekend in which Ash did something no other Fed Cup player has ever done, Kiki & Caro were *together* again (no, really -- this isn't "The Twilight Zone"), Jo Konta once again went into warrior mode, Carla Suarez-Navarro "saved" Garbine Muguruza and, yes, we learned that In Rinaldi We (Still) Trust.

1. Ash and the "Good-on-Ya Gals"

2. Julien Benneteau, Creator of Miracles
3. The Spanish team (well, mostly CSN) overcoming Garbi "Mugu-ing" all over the place
4. Simona, win or lose
5. Jo "Freakin'" Konta, yet again

6. Czech Maidens: The Next Generation
7. German (veteran) efficiency
8. The faith Kathy Rinaldi rightly had in Sonya Kenin, and that Sloane Stephens proved isn't too risky to develop

9. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Fed Cup Goddess?
10. And there you go...

Maybe karma -- and "Karmic Kiki" -- is real, after all.

1. Alona, Garbi and Madison
2. The shelf life of Romania's 1st Round upset of the Czechs in February
3. The Team Italia legacy finally ticking down to 00:00
4. The shelf life of Yulia Putintseva's feel-good Fed Cup weekend
5. The continued relevance of the Dutch Fed Cup team without Kiki Bertens

Enjoy it while you can?

We expect to see Lucky Lucy again come November...

*WEEK 16*

France(H) def. Romania 3-2 [dd]
Australia(H) def. Belarus 3-2 [dd]
=World Group Playoffs=
Czech Republic(H) def. Canada 4-0
United States(H) def. Switzerland 3-2
Germany def. Latvia(H) 3-1
Spain def. Belgium(H) 3-2 [dd]
=World Group II Playoffs=
Russia(H) def. Italy 4-0
Japan(H) def. Netherlands 4-0
Great Britain(H) def. Kazakhstan 3-1
Slovakia(H) def. Brazil 3-1
=Zone Promotion Finals=
[Americas II at PER] Peru d. Bahamas 2-0
[Americas II Pool at DOM] Venezuela d. Guatemala 2-1 [dd]
[Europe/Africa III at FIN] Finland d. Cyprus 2-0
[Europe/Africa III at MNE] Egypt d. Norway 2-1 [dd]


France def. Romania 3-2 [dd]
[Rouen, FRA / RCI]
...any tie including both the complicated and excitable Swarmettes of Romania *and* the equally excitable and (maybe even more) complicated Pastries of France was always set to be a dramatic rendezvous. But what happened in Rouen, days after the Notre Dame fire in Paris 70 miles away, continually took things to the next level of the Fed Cup experience. From hotly contested matches to belatedly debatable decisions to, ultimately, an on-court reconciliation that woke up the echoes of past glory and put to rest years of ugly public backbiting, this one more than lived up to (and exceeded) its billing. While the French will move on to a second final in four years and have another attempt to seek Fed Cup title #3, the Romanians are left to stew over a first-ever final appearance that might have been.

Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
...finally, Garcia and Mladenovic were on the same page. Finally, they agreed on a common goal once more. Finally, they put the past in the past and reclaimed at least a small portion of an exceptional working relationship that went sour two years ago.

Who would have ever thought that Garcia & Mladenovic, former Roland Garros doubles champions (2016) before the former's decision to focus on singles and the latter's ugly attacks on her patriotism and intelligence, would play *together* again before they ever again played *against* each other? Of course, not that they hadn't come close, multiple times over the past two-plus seasons they came within a round of a meeting, only to see one or both lose and the spotlight moment averted. Even their appearance as teammates on the French roster in February was an unexpected development. Though it never produced any public coming together or signs of bygones being bygones, and then Captain Julien Benneteau's decision to not play Mladenovic (apparently not because of injury, either) in the 1st Round raised the issue of whether she'd "behaved" herself while interacting with Garcia during the week. As it was, Garcia took back the leadership reigns (which she'd had during her original FC stint, as she was the vessel through which Amelie Mauresmo's teaching more easily flowed) from Mladenovic and got the French to this semifinal. Her singles career blossomed in the wake of her split with Mladenovic and withdrawal from Fed Cup amid a hail of threats from the overzealous French Federation.

At the same time, Mladenovic has changed over the past two years. While her ranking and results have sunk, and she's experienced numerous injury issues, she's undergone at least something of a public transformation off the court, too. The mean spirited attacks on other players have dissipated, her romantic relationship with ATP player Dominic Thiem has apparently flourished, and her lack of any sort of commentary over February's FC machinations made one believe she may have finally turned a karmic corner. Since that 1st Round situation, she'd notched a win over #1 Naomi Osaka and before heading to Rouen had announced that she'd picked up Sascha Bajin as her new coach. Things were looking up.

Then came this semifinal tie.

While both Garcia and Mladenovic lost singles matches to Simona Halep this weekend, the possibility of their first doubles teaming since early 2017 loomed on the horizon, for good and bad. It was included on the original schedule before the tie, but one had to wonder if anything "during the week" might change that reality. Mladenovic's pulling by Benneteau from singles match #4 could have made it more *or* less likely that it'd occur. When it finally did, with a berth in the FC final on the line, it was surely a consequential personal and professional moment for both women, as well as possibly French Fed Cup tennis, not only for this November but maybe beyond. After dropping the 1st set vs. Halep & Monica Niculescu, the Pastries settled into their old roles and won out in three, then celebrated like they used to.

Is it a new day, or a short-lived *team*-based reconciliation? Who knows. But it was surely a development worth waiting for.
Simona Halep/ROU
...Halep's performance in Rouen could have easily put her under consideration for MVP here, even in a losing effort. While her serves sagged down the stretch in the deciding doubles match, it's still a case that could easily be made. After all, she wasn't supposed to be playing in the doubles match at all, and had done *everything* within her power to avoid having it become necessary against the reunited Pastry pair.

With the visiting (and loud, as always) Romanian fans cheering her on, Halep had dispatched Mladenovic 3 & 1 to open the tie, then outlasted Garcia in 2:57 in match #3 to put the Swarmettes up 2-1. Against Garcia, Halep had overcome a 4-0 1st set deficit to serve at 5-4, and later saved two SP before holding one of her own in the tie-break, only to lose her footing on the red clay and fall in the backcourt on a point that gave the Pastry her third SP, which she converted seconds later. Halep rallied to win in three, though, breaking Garcia for 5-4 (with the help of a pair of DF) and then serving out her eighth straight FC singles win (and ending the French woman's run of six).

If one of her teammates could have contributed just a single win, she'd have been the heroine of the entire weekend. But Mihaela Buzarnescu had lost quickly to Garcia on Saturday, and then Captain Florin Segarceanu's risky gamble to substitute Irina-Camelia Begu in singles match #4 ultimately backfired. Begu lost in three to Pauline Parmentier, and hurt herself badly enough in the match to not be able to play the doubles. So rather than having Begu & Niculescu, who won a WTA title in February and then defeated the world's #1 doubles duo (Krejcikova/Siniakova) to upset the Czechs in the 1st Round, it was Niculescu (always a beam of light in doubles) teaming with a tired Halep (with a sore hip) not long after she'd wrapped up a three-hour singles win. The two put up a good fight, but once the Pastries began to click on court like the "old days" (you know, way back in 2016, when each day didn't seem like an assault on every institution and societal norm... yeah, you remember those times, right?), the final result was likely inevitable. Together, Garcia & Mladenovic were always "one" on the doubles court.
Pauline Parmentier/FRA
...the 33-year old Pasty has been one of the significant late career bloomers on tour over the last couple of seasons, winning two titles and recording her first career Top 10 win in 2018. French captian Benneteau, showing some Amelie-esque Pastry Whispering skills after seizing control of the soul of the team in February by exercising some much needed authority, substituted Parmentier for Mladenovic with the tie on the line in match #4. She outlasted Begu in three sets, ending a four-match losing streak (all last year) in FC competition and handing off the tie to Garcia/Mladenovic without Kiki having to conserve her energy in order to effectively compete in back-to-back matches. While her win will likely be forgotten, it was surely as key as any moment in this tie until the deciding doubles contest played out. The French may not have reached the final without her.

...for years, the depth of the Swarmette talent pool made a legit Fed Cup run a possibility. Years ago, I'd predicted a title (or final) would come by the end of 2017. In 2016, Romania took the Czech Republic to the deciding doubles in the 1st Round, only to lose and have to start over again after dropping the next two ties. The group finally fought their way back into the World Group for '19, and this time they upset the Czechs (again it went to doubles) in February to reach the nation's first semifinal since 1973. They came within a single win of a first final in Fed Cup history this weekend, but the failure to do ultimately wasted the effort it took to end the Czechs' reign two months ago.

What may be the deepest Romanian women's tennis generation isn't that far off from seeing the latter stages of its playing days. Some of the top players are past 30, or approaching it, and the physicality of Halep's game makes one question her ability and desire to stick around too far (if at all) into her thirties. She's currently 27.

The best thing to remember about Romania's FC future is that Simona won't simply not set aside her goal of winning a championship for her country. She'll have another chance in 2020, the same year her other goal of bringing home Olympic Gold might also be fulfilled in Tokyo. We saw last spring in Paris what she can do when it comes to completing long term quests. As long as she's around, Romania remains a threat to win this competition.

But one wonders, what with the history and (continued) depth of the Czech FC legacy now and into the future, if this might have been Romania's last *best* chance to grab the glory. Stay tuned.
Match #5 - Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) def. Simona Halep/Monica Niculescu (ROU)
This wasn't the first time the Pastries have teamed to win a deciding doubles rubber to send France to a Fed Cup final. Remember?


Australia def. Belarus 3-2 [dd]
[Brisbane, AUS / HCO]
...Belarus had unfinished Fed Cup business, having lost in the deciding doubles to the U.S. in the 2017 final. But Australia had Ash Barty. Belarus arrived in Brisbane with a full and bursting roster, with a healthy and fully integrated Vika Azarenka teaming with the two players who've led the BLR FC push, Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich. But Australia had Ash Barty. And, once again, that mattered more than anything.

Ash Barty/AUS
...Barty's Player of the Year credentials added yet another resume item in Brisbane, as the Aussie became the first player to ever have a hand in all three of her team's points in both the 1st Round and semifinals. After ending Victoria Azarenka's twelve consecutive FC singles match winning streak (back to 2011) in match #2, Barty destroyed Aryna Sabalenka to increase her own FC singles winning streak to nine. In the deciding doubles yet again, two months after joining with newbie Priscilla Hon to defeat the Bannerettes, Barty teamed with veteran Sam Stosur to defeat Azarenka & Sabalenka in three. Barty's 14th straight overall FC win means the Aussies will host the Fed Cup final in November. It's the first time Australia will play in a FC championship tie since 1993, and the first time it will play *and* host the final since 1978. The Aussies will be seeking the nation's first title since 1974. The last time Aussies lifted the FC trophy on home soil was in 1971 in Perth when Margaret Court and Evonne Goolalong, the latter with Aboriginal heritage just like Barty, leading the way. The 22-year old is now 10-1 (singles) and 7-1 (doubles) in her Fed Cup career... and will be waiting for the Pastries when they arrive Down Under seven months from now. Wanna bet Ash will need to go 3-0 again?

Samantha Stosur/AUS
...Stosur came to Brisbane under the cloud of a 4-13 singles record in the city in WTA events and Fed Cup action. *That* mark didn't improve, as she's now 4-15. But hold on. While she blew a golden opportunity to open the tie with an upset of Sabalenka -- she served for the 1st set and took the Belarusian to three sets in a 2:47 defeat -- that she extended the BLR #1 may have impacted the entire tie, for Sabalenka never fully looked "right" all weekend. Yes, that's somewhat been the case all season long with her, but being forced to extend herself right out of the box on Saturday surely may have *contributed* to her tired 2 & 2 loss to Barty on Sunday, which preserved Ash for the doubles. Even Stosur's quick 1 & 1 defeat at the hands of Azarenka in match #4, while it forced a fifth match, served as a virtual warm-up session for the 35-year old Aussie, who was on her game when it mattered in the tie's final contest. In that doubles match, Stosur was the best player on the court in the closing games, authoring seven of the final eight points won by the Aussies to end the match. First, she held at love for 5-2, then outhit the Belarusians while AUS built a love/40 lead a game later on Azarenka's serve. Stosur ended the match with some successful net play. 8-0 in Fed Cup doubles in her career, this goes alongside her win the January's AO doubles final as her biggest victory on Aussie soil. Come November, though, that could change.

Match #5 - Ash Barty/Samantha Stosur (AUS) def. Victoria Azarenka/Aryna Sabalenka (BLR)
So many numbers at play here: Barty's 14th straight FC win, Stosur's 8th straight in doubles, Australia's first final in 26 years, looking for a title for the first time in 45. To be continued...



Czech Republic def. Canada 4-0
[Prostejov, CZE / RCI]
...when the Canadian team was announced and didn't include an Andreescu, Abanda or Bouchard, the course of this tie was pretty much apparent. It would have taken a stumble of monumental proportions for the Czechs, coming off a rare 1st Round loss to Romania, to drop a *second* straight tie, even while not fielding a roster that included the likes of Petra Kvitova or Karolina Pliskova. But have no fear (or, if you're the *rest* of the FC field, maybe *do* have a little fear), the new generation of Czech Maidens are no slouches, either.

Marketa Vondrousova/CZE
...the 19-year old didn't come in with much FC experience (1-1 in a big pressure spot in the 2017 semis vs. the U.S.), but few doubt that she's likely at the heart of the Maidens' future Fed Cup hopes. She did nothing to dissuade such notions in Prostejov, defeating 16-year debuting Leylah Annie Fernandez 4 & 1 on Saturday, then clinching the win with a 3 & 4 takedown of Marino in match #3.

Karolina Muchova/CZE
...the 22-year old was one of two Czechs making her Fed Cup roster debut this weekend, and one of four members of the squad with one win or less in her FC career. Muchova's opening match, 6-3/6-0 destruction of Rebecca Marino (the #3-ranked CAN at #183, who in February had returned to FC for the first time since 2011 and played in only a dead rubber doubles match... but was suddenly thrust into the singles #1 slot for *this* team) pretty much killed off any legitimate drama in this tie.

Is it just me or do the Czech uniforms look like they might have been sponsored by Eddie's Lumber & Auto Parts Supply Co. in downtown Smithville?
Lucie Safarova/CZE
...having already announced her retirement, then having her plans to bow out at the Australian Open scrapped because of a sore wrist, Safarova wasn't even supposed to be here. She was a surprise member of the announced roster earlier this month, the focus of an unscheduled goodbye moment set to take place before what *should* be her final farewell in Prague later this spring. Her participation in this tie was hardly a given, but once her Czech teammates swept away the Canadians in singles it was easy for captain Petr Pala to insert the team's elder stateswoman into the action for a final FC doubles match. It was and even better ending since she won it, picking up her final FC win (#14, but her first in WD) along with Barbora Krejcikova, who picked up her first, with a 7-6(4)/7-5 victory over Gaby Dabrowski & Sharon Fichman. Safarova's fourteen years of Fed Cup participation are an all-time high for the Czech Republic.

Match #2 - Marketa Vondrousova/CZE def. Leylah Annie Fernandez/CAN
Enough about the Czechs. LAF, perhaps a big part of Canada's FC future as a supporting player to (one would think) Andreeescu, made her debut in a situation where she had nothing to lose, too.

And she was part of the team's official photo session, where the Canadian took the "dress up uniform" photo idea to a whole new level, turning it into something of a display of an entire fashion line, with a different version of the "team colors" for everyone.


United States def. Switzerland 3-2
[San Antonio TX, USA / HCI]
...after falling victim to what was a buzzsaw named Barty in February in Asheville, Kathy Rinaldi's new task was putting together a team that could successfully rebound from what was her first big disappointment as the U.S. team captain, and not make losing home ties a new trend in her stewardship. With previous stalwart CoCo Vandeweghe still rehabbing an injury, Rinaldi grabbed the two highest-ranked (and viable) roster members in Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, and remained faithful to Sonya Kenin, the gritty young player (and recent WTA title winner) the former lead national coach saw grow up within the USTA system. With Belinda Bencic absent from the Swiss roster, though what remained was potentially dangerous if they could catch a wave of momentum, it was clear that this tie would say a great deal about Rinaldi's judgment, as well as which players could be relied upon from here forward in the Bannerette FC effort. By the time the sun went down on the Texas landscape on Sunday evening, after an initial wobble, the U.S. had won, and Rinaldi got some important answers for 2020.

Sloane Stephens/USA
...the state of Stephens' intensity has always been a matter of debate. When she's invested and in form she's virtually unbeatable (see '17 U.S. Open), but when she's the opposite on either front she could fall victim to almost any hurdle. Her recent FC history said as much, as she went 0-2 in the '17 FC final in the immediate aftermath of her Open title, nearly single-handledly costing the U.S. the title; then in last year's semis she was 2-0 vs. France and carried the U.S. back into another final. Which Sloane would show up in San Antonio? Well, after a slow start that saw her fall behind 3-1 to Timea Bacsinszky in match #2, she dug out of that (and the U.S.'s) hole to win in straights, avoiding an almost devastating 0-2 hole on Day 1 after Madison Keys has won just five total games in match #1. Stephens came loaded for (more) bear on Sunday, dispatching Viktorija Golubic 6-3/6-2 and giving Rinaldi the cushion to go with her gut when it came to which player to hand the racket to for match #4 (Hint: it wasn't Sloane's good friend and fellow '17 U.S. Open finalist). Stephens is always going to be something of a wild card in any setting, but the heart is there. It's just a matter of making sure it's beating. In a post-Serena era (well, assuming Stephens outlasts Williams on tour, I guess?), she's the Bannerette captain's "big fish" to reel into the boat when there's a major FC moment to be had. Vandeweghe is still set to be the emotional center of the squad, while Rinaldi may have found her go-to depth player this weekend, too. Well, actually, let's just say that her suspicions about the identity of that player were *finally* proven correct.
Sonya Kenin/USA
...Kenin's heart and fight have been evident over the last two seasons as she's climbed the rankings, won a tour title and lost a series of dramatic Fed Cup matches. But with a winless FC slate (0-3) heading into the weekend, one had to wonder how much longer Rinaldi's faith in the player she's known since she was a talented "wee one" could be sustained without something tangible to show for it. When she was hired as FC captain, Rinaldi pointed to the bonds that she's formed with young players as a reason why she was a good fit for the job, saying that "they know I'm truly in their corner." In the case of Kenin more than any other, Rinaldi has put her Fed Cup money where her mouth was. With Stephens and Keys on the roster, Kenin didn't *have* to play, but you kind of figured she would. Once Keys immediately stumbled out of the gate, Stephens' win to put the U.S. up 2-1 provided a nothing-to-lose moment where Kenin was a natural fit. Against Bacsinszky, the 20-year old overcame a 3-0 2nd set deficit, with the Swiss vet serving at 5-3 to force a 3rd, and (after Kenin failed to served it out at 6-5) rushed to a TB lead that she never relinquished, winning in straights to put the U.S. back in the World Group for 2020. Her long-awaited first FC win means she'll have many, many additional opportunities for more as long as her captain is in charge. Much like Vandeweghe before her, Kenin has earned her way into Rinaldi's heart, and that of the Bannerette Fed Cup trust. In Kenin She Trusted, and In Rinaldi We Trust... and so it is written.

Wait for the big hug...

Madison Keys/USA
...for a bit, it looked as if Keys and the Bannerettes might have slipped into the ever-worrisome Golubic Zone (see Diane). But it just turned out to be Madison. Again. After failing to adequately fill her role as singles #1 vs. AUS in February, she arrived in San Antonio following her Charleston title run and came up small yet again vs. the Swiss. She's Kathy Rinaldi's version of what Alize Cornet became for former French captain Amelie Mauresmo... at some point you just throw your hands up and find another vessel in which to place faith. Given the role of leading the U.S. team into the tie, Keys opened play on Saturday by matching up with Viktorija Golubic. To put it mildly, Keys was never in sync. With her game. With the moment. Or with what her opponent was throwing at her. That this was the same player who knocked off Stephens for the first time and seemed to have turned yet another (false?) corner by winning in Charleston was hard to believe. Well, unless, you've followed Keys' career. With her it seems that around every corner is yet another corner, around which there's another, and then another. At some point it all turns into a corn maze and your head starts to spin. Whether Rinaldi can continue to deal with that, or finds a way to combat it, remains to be seen... it's something that any number of coaches have had a hard time figuring out for long over the years where Keys is concerned. Her 6-2/6-3 loss to Golubic, combined with Stephens' easy win over the same player a day later, made it easy to hang up Keys' racket for the weekend. One has to wonder when it'll be called on again.
Match #2 - Sloane Stephens/USA def. Timea Bacsinszky/SUI 6-4/6-3
Match #4 - Sonya Kenin/USA def. Timea Bacinszky/SUI 6-3/7-6(4)
oh, how things may have changed had Bacsinszky been able to hold her 3-1 1st set lead over Stephens, or her 3-0 lead (then serving at 5-3) in the 2nd against Kenin. Then again, maybe she should have figured out earlier in the week that things weren't exactly tilting in a favorable direction for her...


Germany def. Latvia 3-1
[Riga, LAT / HCI]
...a tie that originally looked to be one of the weekend's most interesting was significantly damaged by the illness/injury-related mid-week pulling of #1 singles players Angelique Kerber and Anastasija Sevastova from their team's rosters... then the virtual absence of Alona Ostapenko turned it into a runaway victory by the visiting Germans.

Andrea Petkovic/GER
...Petko has been a reliable participant in Fed Cup for Germany over the years. The 31-year old played her first tie in 2007, a doubles win with Tatjana Maria (then Malek). Between 2010-15 she was 12-2 in singles, defeating the likes of Kuznetsova, Stosur and Cibulkova and playing in one final (2014) and two semifinal ties. But all that changed in recent years. She arrived in Riga with a 1-6 singles mark since 2016, without a win in three years. But Kerber's absence suddenly make her a key player in this WG Playoff match-up with Latvia, as she assumed the tone-setting match #1 slot vs. Alona Ostapenko. Her tie-opening 7-5/6-4 defeat of Lavtian Thunder(?) set aside any preconceptions that may have existed about whether or not Ostapenko might be able to put the team's efforts on her back and carry it to victory without the aid of Sevastova (8-2 in FC in 2018-19). Petko didn't play again until everyone's fate had been sealed, in the dead doubles match that allowed Latvia to avoid a shutout. But it didn't matter... her work had been done.

Mona Barthel/GER
...Barthel had one of *those* weeks. But the good kind. She wasn't supposed to do anything more than *watch* the festivities in Riga, being only an emergency alternate when the week began. Then Angelique Kerber was pulled from the roster with the flu and Barthel was suddenly a German team member for the first time since 2013. Then, with Germany up 2-0 after Saturday, she was called on to replace Julia Goerges in match #3. Barthel then defeated Ostapenko 6-4/6-4 to record her second career FC win and secure Germany's spot in 2020's World Group. Sometimes you just never know.

Alona Ostapenko/LAT
...Ostapenko's '18 season was an up-and-down rollercoaster experience a year after her Roland Garros triumph, but she still managed to thrive in a Fed Cup setting (going 9-1 in FC play over the last year and a half). 2019 has been an even bigger disappointment for the Latvian, and she failed to even register a set win in singles as a heavy favorite in Riga this weekend. Her 52-unforced error (vs. 19 winners) defeat at the hands of Petkovic got the weekend off to a bad start, and she and her teammates never recovered (though Diana Marcinkevica tried to right the course, only to fall in three sets to Julia Goerges in three in match #2). Her straight sets loss to Barthel in match #3 completed an embarrassing singles sweep of the home team. For what it was worth, and it wasn't much, a *total* sweep was avoided when Ostapenko teamed with 18-year old Daniela Vismane to win the dead rubber match. If she didn't already see the writing on the wall that some big changes need to be made in her game approach or coaching set-up (or both), it's difficult to imagine that Ostapenko doesn't now. The Thunder has been muffled, and the sport is worse off for it. S.O.A., S.O.A. ... Save Our Alona.
Match #4 - Alona Ostapenko/Daniela Vismane (LAT) def. Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Andrea Petkovic (GER)
Latvia avoids a sweep, getting 18-year old Vismane her third career WD win. Her first came alongside Ostapenko in 2017.


Spain def. Belgium 3-2 [dd]
[Kortrijk, BEL / HCI]
...on the heels of a February collapse in a home tie vs. France, Belgium was without the nation's singles #1 (Elise Mertens) on home (again) vs. Spain, sporting a virtual "dream team" roster that comes about far less often than Captain Anabel Medina-Garrigues would surely prefer. Team Espana was the decided favorite going in, but the flaky nature of the Spanish #1 combined with the gutsy heart of the Waffles to very nearly produce the biggest upset of the Fed Cup weekend. In the end, Garbine Muguruza was in debt to teammate Carla Suarez-Navarro, who pulled her out of the fire, absolved her of what would have surely been total blame for the loss, and actually celebrated the tie-clinching deciding doubles win with her by her side.

Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
...even with her long and successful career, CSN generally exists in the shadow of Muguruza when it comes to Spanish tennis. Her performance this weekend in Belgium -- the very definition of what it means to be an "MVP" -- surely allowed her to step outside of her usual role, though... even if the story of this tie can't help but be how poorly *Muguruza* played in it. Suarez-Navarro, for her part, has rarely been better. Twice she came onto the court after a Muguruza loss, and twice she reset the deck. She handled Alison Van Uytvanck 3 & 2 on an indoor hard court on Saturday, then demolished Yanina Wickmayer (in for Flipkens) a day later with the tie on the line in match #4. Joining forces with the likely mentally dragging Muguruza, a three-set deciding doubles win fully pulled the Spanish hopes out of the fire. Whew! I hope Garbi left Carla a thank-you note for a performance beyond the call of the usual Fed Cup duty.

Ysaline Bonaventure/BEL
...the 24-year old Waffle hadn't played singles for Belgium since 2016, but she'd never lost in her FC career in the four times she had. And she still hasn't. Filling in for Kirsten Flipkens (they'd later join up with for the doubles), Bonaventure handed Muguruza her second loss of the weekend on Sunday, taking Spain to the edge of disaster by giving Belgium what turned out be a surmountable 2-1 lead.


Garbine Muguruza/ESP
...the notion of the Spanish Dream Team coasting to victory nearly turned into a nightmare for Muguruza, who arrived in Kortrijk off her title run in Monterrey. Affirming her role as the flakiest #1/multiple slam winner... well, maybe ever... Muguruza went all "Mugu" in Fed Cup play for the first time. She'd been 9-1 in her singles career before going 0-2 this weekend, losing to #59 Kirsten Flipkens and #122 Ysaline Bonaventure in a pair of three-set stunners that almost sunk the ESP team's efforts. She got a reprieve, though. Surely the entire weight of the loss would have been placed on her shoulders had it happened, but CSN threw her and the team a lifeline with a second singles win in match #4, then they both combined to win the deciding doubles in three sets.

So, there. Easy-peasy. Yeah, right.
Match #5 - Garbine Muguruza/Carla Suarez-Navarro (ESP) def. Ysaline Bonaventure/Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)
That sound you heard (and look on Muguruza's face you can see here) is what mental exhaustion and relief that you're not going to blamed for *everything* look like.



Russia def. Italy 4-0
[Moscow, RUS / RCI] a tie that would determine which four-time FC champ would be sent to zone play -- Russia yo-yoing back after starting the year there, or Italy falling through the floor for the first time since 1997 -- the Hordettes rode the new winning combination of Captain Igor Andreev and sudden (and belated) Fed Cup Queen Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, along with some GenPDQ talent, into WG II for 2020. Top-ranked (but slumping badly) Dasha Kasatkina was on the Russian roster, but did nothing but cheer on her teammates. As it turned out, it was for the best.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...former captain Anastasia Myskina often pulled the Pavlyuchenkova card at FC time, only to be dealt a losing hand. So far, under new leader Igor Andreev the last two years, the oft-underachieving Russian has been as reliable as a winter snowstorm in Moscow. Pavlyuchenkova's two singles wins saw her put the team up 2-0 on Saturday after she battled back vs. Jasmine Paolini -- from 5-2 down in the 1st, and 4-3 with the Italian serving in the 2nd -- to win a pair of tie-breaks, then clinched the win with a 6-4/6-3 win over Martina Trevisan in match #3. After sporting a 4-8 singles record from 2009-17 under the oft-controversial Shamil Tarpischev and oft-questioned Myskina, Pavlyuchenkova has gone 5-1 with Andreev.

Anastasia Potapova/RUS
...18-year old Potapova is tall, blonde and has won a title at Wimbledon ('16 juniors), and often resembles on the court another Russian who could be described in pretty much the same way. But prior to this weekend she had very little FC experience, having lost her only previous singles match ('18 vs. Kuzmova) in a clinching match for SVK and won in doubles in a dead rubber contest (vs. DEN) in February. She opened play against Italy by dropping the first set of match #1 vs. Martina Trevisan, but ralied to win in three to set the tone for the Hordettes for the rest of the weekend.

...after fighting off the inevitable for as long as possible, and longer than most could have imagined (look at how fast NED has fallen since reaching the '16 semis), the vaunted Fed Cup run of Team Italia has finally come to an end after four titles (2006/09/10/13), another final (2007), and five semis (1999/02/11/12/14) over a two-decade plus span. Of course, the gradual retirements of stalwarts Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone and Roberta Vinci (and the barely-hanging-on nature of the lone remaining great player from those teams, Sara Errani) meant that those days essentially passed by long ago, but as long as Italy maintained a presence on some level of World Group play the memory was still within earshot. No longer. In this tie, the highest-ranked Italian, Camila Giorgi (who returned to FC in February after a bitter break from the federation years ago) followed up her 0-2 performance of two months ago by not even getting onto the court this time around. The cupboard isn't bare as far as young Italian talent goes, as some juniors (Elisabetta Cocciaretto, for example) have posted good results over the last year or so, and Trevisan and Paolini have proven to be good "depth" players. But an era has now *officially*, albeit predictably, ended. Long live the Italians.
Match #1 - Anastasia Potapova/RUS def. Martina Trevisan/ITA 2-6/6-3/6-1
Match #4 - Vlada Koval/Anastasia Potapova (RUS) def. Sara Errani/Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 4-6/6-3 [10-7]
the next generation of Russian Fed Cup tennis takes a seat at the table, as Potapova's first singles win is combined with an additional, piling-on doubles victory alongside debuting 17-year old Koval.

Japan def. Netherlands 4-0
[Osaka, JPN / HCO] February's FC action, Japan was a MP away from a commanding lead in what turned out to be crushing loss to Spain; while the Netherlands got an early season taste of what Bianca Andreecsu had to offer as the teenager led Canada to a destruction of the freefalling Dutch team. Going in, with the NED's top star -- Kiki Bertens -- sitting out once again a Japanese sweep seemed possible. It turned out to be a fait accompli.

Misaki Doi/JPN
...Doi bore the brunt of the blame for Japan's loss to Spain in February. With the team up 1-0, she held MP in match #2 vs. Georgina Garcia Perez, but failed to convert it, opening a door through which the tall Spaniard busted her way through on her way to having a hand in *three* wins that stole the tie from the Japanese. Doi was back for more two months later, having already learned something about taking the *long* road toward rebounding from disappointment (MP vs. Kerber in the 1st Rd. of the '16 AO, remember? Unfortunately, it seemed to take her around a year and a half to forget about *that* lost opportunity). She didn't let redemption linger this time, opening with a 3 & 4 win over Richel Hogenkamp, then finishing off the Dutch with a 3 & 2 win in match #3 over Bibiane Schoofs to clinch victory in the tie.

...can it be that it was only three years ago that a Cinderella Dutch team upset the Russians in the 1st Round and came within a deciding doubles match vs. Amelie Mauresmo's Pastries of reaching the final? Yes, it can. But it's so much worse than that. After getting blasted by Canada in February, *this* 4-0 shutout loss to Japan is the second straight for the Netherlands. But it's actually worse than *that.* Last year, the Dutch lost two ties by 3-1 and 4-1 scores, too. If you were counting, that's fifteen losses in seventeen matches, and a record of 1-12 when those ties were still "live." Yikes. Aside from a win over Slovakia in the 2017 World Group playoffs (not coincidentally, the last time former Fed Cup Queen Kiki Bertens played a match for the national team), the squad has lost six of seven ties since that effectively era-ending win over the Hordettes in '16, which itself was the eighth straight *win* by the Dutch over a three-season stretch en route to that stage.
Match #4 - Shuko Aoyama/Eri Hozumi (JPN) def. Lesley Kerkhove/Demi Schuurs (NED)
...6-3/3-6 [10-6].
As has become tradition of late, Aoyama and Hozumi made it *three* and *four* different players scoring points in a tie for Japan. Nao Hibino provided singles wins #2, while only Kurumi Nara went home without a contribution. Additionally, it says a great deal about the lackluster nature of Schuurs' season that even in *this* instance she wasn't able to help get the Dutch on the board -- the same thing that happened vs. Canada in February.

TRIVIA NOTE: Kerkhove is the only Dutch player to have won a "live" FC match over the last three years, having opened last year's WG Playoff tie vs. Australia with a win over Sam Stosur.

FED CUP NOTE: That Australia is now one tie away from its first FC title in forty-five years *also* shows you just how quickly things can change in this competition. So, essentially, all these countries need to do is get themselves an Ash Barty and all will be good. It's as easy as that.

Great Britain def. Kazakhstan 3-1
[London, ENG GBR / HCI]
...years of Fed Cup trial-and-error were set to finally come to a head in London for both GBR (seeking to reach WG II for the first time since 1993, after losing at this stage four times since '12) and KAZ (already having advanced further in the competition than ever before, but seeking to overcome a trend of underachievement that has plagued the nation's FC history), with one assured of ending their frustrating drought. There turned out to be no easy victories to be had all weekend, as all four singles matches went three sets and lasted a combined 9:43. In the end, the Brits finally knocked down the door, as Johanna Konta turned the tables by rallying from two breaks down in the 3rd set vs. Yulia Putintseva less than 24 hours after the Kazakh had saved 3 MP vs. Katie Boulter to knot the tie. Then Boulter redeemed herself by providing the clinching victory in another seesaw match against Zarina Diyas.

Johanna Konta/GBR
...Team GB's rise through the Fed Cup ranks has been unquestionably led by Konta, whose experiences have never been anything other than dramatic, physical and, more often than not, exhilarating. What began in 2017 during a contentious tie lost to Romania, during which Konta was verbally abused by then ROU FC Captain Ilie Nastase, has now seen the Brit win eleven straight singles matches following her victories this weekend over Diyas and Putintseva. In February, Konta went the distance in zone play, winning a 3rd set TB in a RR match just to get GBR out of pool play, then outlasting Aleksandra Krunic in three despite physically collapsing multiple times in the Promotional Playoff. Here, she went 2:38 to defeat Diyas, then went into warrior mode in match #3 vs. Putintseva, overcoming a two-break 4-1 deficit in the 3rd to win 7-5 in 2:21.

Katie Boulter/GBR
...Boulter burst onto the Team GB Fed Cup scene in February by going undefeated (4-0/2-0) in zone play as the scrappy Brits battled their way into the WG II Playoffs. On Saturday, Boulter seemed set to put GBR up 2-0, leading Putintseva 4-1 in the 3rd set before seeing the Kazakh save 3 MP and hand her her first FC defeat in a 2:31 contest that ended with an 8-6 TB. Predictably, Putintseva went absolutely nuts, making some of the 39-year old Jimmy Connors' old U.S. Open celebrations seem positively tame. But after Putintseva stumbled against Konta a day later, blowing a two-break 3rd set lead, Boulter was handed a golden opportunity for immediate redemption. With the tie on her racket, the 22-year old lost a break lead in the 1st over Diyas and dropped a TB, but came back strong to allow just five game in the final two sets to secure GBR's place in 2020's WG II.
Match #2 - Yulia Putintseva/KAZ def. Katie Boulter/GBR 3-6/6-2/7-6(6)
Match #3 - Johanna Konta/GBR def. Yulia Putintseva/KAZ 4-6/6-2/7-5
Match #4 - Katie Boulter/GBR def. Zarina Diyas/KAZ 6-7(1)/6-4/6-1
what the Fed Cup Gods giveth, they also taketh. The swiftly changing emotions of FC tennis has rarely been more evident than they were in this tie. An energized Putintseva seemed to have possibly broken Boulter and the Brits' will on Saturday...

But then Putintseva squandered a sure-win match of her own on Saturday, and soon after it turned out to be Boulter celebrating last and best as the Brits (finally) climbed one more rung up the Fed Cup ladder.


Slovakia def. Brazil 3-1
[Bratislava, SVK / RCI]
...Slovakia's deep but oft-injured (or inconsistent, in the form of AKS) squad seems to be underachieving by just finding itself fighting to remain in WG II play, yet it's found itself in just this position three times in the last five years. As they did the last two times (2015-16) they flirted with a return to zone play for the first time since '06, the Slovaks prevailed to avoid such a fate. The search for back-to-back victories in the same year continues, though, as it's something not accomplished by a SVK team since 2012. The Brazilians, improved but still not quite up to snuff (especially with Beatriz Haddad not fully back to her pre-injury form), will have to be content with reaching this stage for the first time since 2014.

Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
...though not having played a tie for Slovakia since 2016, Cibulkova obviously isn't quite ready to cede her top spot on the team to young Viktoria Kuzmova, who proved herself capable of playing #1 singles very early in her FC career last year. Not content with simply showing up and playing, Cibulkova put forth her most dominant Fed Cup performance in years, defeating Carolina Alves 6-1/6-2 and then clinching the tie with a 7-6(3)/6-0 win over Beatriz Haddad in match #3. The last time she completed a tie with a 2-0 singles record with a pair of straight sets victories was 2012, when Slovakia claimed a WG Playoff victory over Spain.

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Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK
...a year after sweeping through both Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich in last year's WG Playoffs (SVK still lost 3-2 w/o Cibulkova), Kuzmova increased her career FC singles mark to 4-1 (w/ four wins in a row) with a 3 & 3 match #2 win over Haddad in Bratislava.
Match #1 - Dominika Cibukova/SVK def. Carolina Alves/BRA
Alves was a Heart Award winner for Americas I in February. But this is what the next step up, vs. a still-a-bear-to-wrestle-to-the-ground-when-she's-healthy opponent, can sometimes look like.

[AMERICAS II ZONE - Lima, PER / RCO; Santo Domingo, DOM / HCO] nation Peru advanced in Lima on the backs of a trio of teenagers -- Anastasia Iamachkine, Dana Guzman and Camila Soares -- who collected all seven points won in Lima; while the favored Venezuelans won out in Santo Domingo, but had to go to the deciding doubles before outlasting Guatemala.

=Promotional Playoff - Lima=
Peru def. Bahamas 2-0
Anastasia Iamachkine/PER
...Pepperdine's Iamachkine, 18, went undefeated on the week, going 3-0 in singles to improve her current FC run to 6-1 after a winless 0-4 start to her career, and 2-0 in doubles while partnering Camila Soares. The duo provided the clinching point in a round robin win over Bolivia that landed the Peruvians in the Promotional Playoff vs. the Bahamas.

Dana Guzman/PER
...the current girls #69, a just-turned-16 year old who put together a lower-level 27-match junior win streak last season, went 2-1 in singles for the week and provided the clinching point in the PP with a win over the Bahamas' Kerrie Cartwright.
Americas II Round Robin Match #3 - Anastaia Iamachkine/Camila Soares (PER) def. Maria-Fernanda Alvarez-Teran/Noelia Zeballos (BOL)
Soares, 16, was the third member of the teen trio that was used in every match played in front of the home crowd. This "live" match prevented the far more experienced Bolivians -- Alvarez-Teran has played in 40 career ties since 2003, while Zeballos has played 29 since 2011 -- from taking the Pool and advancing to the Promotional Playoff.

=Pool-Deciding Tie - Santo Dominigo=
Venezuela def. Guatemala 2-1 [dd]
Andrea Gamiz/VEN
...she went 4-0 in singles, recording the "saving" point that sent the Pool deciding tie with Guatemala to the doubles. The 26-year old then teamed with Aymet Uzcategui to get the win to move Venezuela up a level to Americas Zone I to begin 2020.
Aymet Uzcategui/VEN
...the 23-year old went 3-1, but her opening loss to Melissa Morales in the deciding tie caused Gamiz to play match #2 in win-or-else mode. The duo teamed to win the deciding doubles, improving Uzcategui's doubles mark to 4-0 (w/ three different partners) for the week.
Melissa Morales and Kirsten-Andrea Weedon, GUA
...though they ended things with a doubles loss to Venezuela, Morales and Weedon nearly put together a Cinderella week, going a combined 7-1 in singles for a virtually anonymous Guatemalan team that has suddenly become the best little Central American Fed Cup team you've never heard of. The doubles loss prevented the team from returning to Americas I after a one year absence. 2018 had been Guatemala's first Zone 1 appearance in twenty-four years (1995-2017). Weedon (34 wins - 25s/9d) is the nation's all-time FC leader in every category of note.
Americas II Round Robin Match #3 - Andrea Gamiz/Aymet Uzcategui (VEN) def. Melissa Morales/Kirsten-Andreea Weedon (GUA)
The conclusion of what amounted to the Americas II "promotional playoff" -- though it was just the final round robin tie that just so happened to decide the winner -- was the first of four (both semis, ESP/BEL in the WG Playoffs and another zone PP tie) "deciding doubles" matches that determined the advancing nation.

...powered by a 19-year old and a thirtything playing captain, Finland thrilled the home crowd in Helsinki; while Egypt, led by a pair of former NCAA college tennis-playing sisters, outlasted all challengers in Montenegro.

=Promotional Playoff - Helsinki=
Finland def. Cyprus 2-0
Anastasia Kulikova/FIN her first career FC nomination, the 19-year old (#539) proved able to easily slide into the team's top slot, going a combined 6-0 (4-0/2-0). She teamed with captain Emma Laine for the deciding doubles win over Lithuania that sent Finland to the PP, then clinched the sweep there over Cyprus with a victory over Raluca Georgiana Serban.
Raluca Georgiana Serban/CYP
...a former Swarmette -- she was born in Constanta, just like Halep -- Serban (a winner of ten ITF crowns from 2015-18, the 21-year old came in at a career high of #205) began representing Cyprus this year. It looks like it could have an immediate impact on the nation's Fed Cup competitiveness. Before falling to Kulikova in PP, Serban was a combined 7-0 (4-0/3-0) in round robin play.

Since debuting in Fed Cup in 1995, Cyprus has skipped the competition a total of twelve years. Due to such little activity, the nation's all-time leaders lists are a bit on the light side. The singles wins leader is Eliza Omirou with eight (Serban is a half-way there after her debut this week), while current team member Eleni Louka leads with six WD wins. Serban won three of those with her in Helsinki.
Mia Nicole Eklund/FIN
...Eklund, 24, was 3-1 in singles, and opened the PP with a three-set victory over aforementioned Cypriot doubles "ace" Elena Louka.

And here it is. The good ol' arm-in-arm circle-hop celebration we see so often at Fed Cup time (but seemingly at no other)...

Emma Laine/FIN
...Finland's playing captain, 33-year old Laine added to her national Fed Cup legacy (she leads FIN in all career categories) with a deciding doubles win (w/ Kulikova) over Lithuania that claimed the Pool title. In all, she had a hand in three WD wins. In what are now 53 career ties, she's gone 34-8 in singles, and 22-13 in doubles, between 2001-19.
Europe/Africa III Round Robin Match #3 - Anastasia Kulikova/Emma Laine (FIN) def. Iveta Daujotatie/Joana Eidukonyte (LTU)
If you need to get something done, do it (partially) by yourself. That's what Captain Laine did here, as she and Kulikova won the only match (a deciding doubles contest that determined the Pool winner) that threatened an advancement by the home team in this Fin-hosted competition.

=Promotional Playoff - Ulcinj=
Egypt def. Norway 2-1 [dd]
Mayar Sherif/EGY
...the former Fresno State and Pepperdine star went 3-0 in singles, opening the PP with a win over Norway's Malene Helgo, then teamed with sister Rana to take the deciding doubles over Helgo & Astrid Wanja Brune Olsen to send Egypt to Americas Zone II next year.

Melanie Stokke/NOR
...while 18-year old teammate Helgo was shouldered with double duty in WS (2-1) and WD (2-1) during the week, 22-year old Stokke stuck to singles. She was untouchable (figuratively, as after a double-bagel win she went to three sets twice), going 3-0 and knocking off Sandra Samir in PP match #2 to send the final to the doubles. She's 13-4 in her FC singles career, winning eight straight FC matches since a loss to Caroline Wozniacki in 2015.

Mayar Sherif & Rana Sherif Ahmed, EGY
...the former NCAA All-American siblings/doubles partners won a pair of tie-deciding doubles matches in Ulcinj. First, a win over Ireland proved to be the difference when it came to winning the Pool, then their victory over Norway in the PP secured Egypt's promotion.
Europe/Africa III PP #3 - Mayar Sherif/Rana Sherif Ahmed (EGY) def. Astrid Wanja Brune Olsen/Malene Helgo
#FSFBW - Fresno State Flashback Weekend.


Captain Julien Benneteau (FRA) = "I gladly accept your Pastry Whispering powers, Amelie. I promise to only use them for good."
Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) = (everybody sing) "Like Ash... if I could be like Ash... I-wanna-be-I-wanna-be-like-Ash..."
Captain Anne Keothavong (GBR) = "While the view from here is rare, and quite nice... why should we just accept that we have to stop here?"
Captain Anabel Medina-Garrigues (ESP) = "Oh, Garbi...what are we going to do with you?" (To Sam Sumyk: "Now I know what you deal with on a daily basis... but I also know *why* you put up with it..")
Captain Kathy Rinaldi (USA) = "Captain's intuition... I told you it was a thing."
Captain Jans Gerlach (GER) - "Not precisely how I scripted it, but I'll take it get out of Riga without further delay."
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) = "Umm, I've got another one, and maybe another one, and maybe even..."
Captain Igor Andreev (RUS) = "She's mine, all mine." [Meanwhile, Anastasia Myskina stews in the shadows.]
Captain Toshihisa Tsuchihashi (JPN) = "All for Misaki, and Misaki for all. She is us. But we could use a Naomi, too."
Captain Matek Liptak (SVK) = "Oh, yeah... THAT'S what a team with Domi on it looks like."
Captain Emma Laine (FIN) = "If you want to get something done, do (some of) it yourself."
Captain Dia Nabil (EGY) = "More Sherifs, please."
Captain Laura Arraya (PER) = "All teenagers, you say? Hmmm, I think I might have something here."
Captain Florin Segarceanu (ROU) = "Monday Morning Captains aside, I still think it was the right decision to go with Begu. We were so close."
Captain William Campos (VEN) = "A close call... but we were the favorites and we won, so there."
Captain Roberta Burzgali (BRA) = "Just getting *this* far is a good step, unless we can start to clone little Buenos."
Captain Anthony Benjamin Vasquez Rodas (GUA) = "Yeah, I've got the best little Central American team you've never heard of? What do you have?"
Captain Adrians Zguns (LAT) = "What the hell just happened?"
Captain Johan Van Herck (BEL) = "I tried my best, but what more could I do?"
Captain Heidi El Tabakh (CAN) = "Don't even ask. I don't want to play the what-if game right now. Just tell Bianca to take care to that shoulder, eh?"
Captain Dias Dostarayev (KAZ) = "'One of these days' wasn't this Sunday, apparently. And, anyway, we're *still* the Kazakh Fed Cup team... what did you *expect* to happen?"
Captain Heinz Gunthardt (SUI) = "At this point, I'm just here for the pre-weekend get together."
Captain Tatiana Poutchek (BLR) = "Hump day isn't Wednesday. It comes on Sundays in April and November... and we've never made it to a Monday."
Captain Paul Haarhuis (NED) = "Honestly, I always thought this whole thing was some sort of dream sequence, anyway."
Captain Tathiana Garbin (ITA) - "The captain of the Titanic was respected. I mean, before the iceberg. I just skipped the first part. Is the band still playing?"
Former Captain Anastasia Myskina (RUS) = "Oh, *now* you're a clutch player, Anastasia? Really?" [slams doors]
Former Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) = "Hey, Kathy. What's this 'captain's intuition' thing you're talking about? It sounds like some kind of voodoo fiction to me."

=2020 World Group=
Czech Republic
United States
=2020 World Group II=
Great Britain

18 - United States
11 - Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia
7 - Australia
5 - Spain
4 - Italy
4 - Russia
2 - France
2 - West Germany/Germany
1 - Belgium
1 - Slovakia
1 - South Africa
[Finals in the 2010's]
6...Czech Republic (6-0)
3...United States (1-2)
3...Russia (0-3)
2...Italy (2-0)
2...FRANCE (0-1)
1...AUSTRALIA (0-0)
1...Belarus (0-1)
1...Germany (0-1)
1...Serbia (0-1)
[Finals since 2000]
8...Russia (4-4)
6...Czech Republic (6-0)
6...United States (2-4)
5...Italy (4-1)
5...FRANCE (1-3)
3...Spain (0-3)
2...Belgium (1-1)
1...AUSTRALIA (0-0)
1...Belarus (0-1)
1...Slovakia (1-0)
1...Germany (0-1)
1...Serbia (0-1)

1963 United States def. Australia 2-1
1964 Australia def. United States 2-1
1965 Australia def. United States 2-1
1966 United States def. West Germany 3-0
1967 United States def. Great Britain 2-0
1968 Australia def. Netherlands 3-0
1969 United States def. Australia 2-1
1970 Australia def. West Germany 3-0
1971 Australia def. Great Britain 3-0
1972 South Africa def. Great Britain 2-1
1973 Australia def. South Africa 3-0
1974 Australia def. United States 2-1
1975 Czechoslovakia def. Australia 3-0
1976 United States def. Australia 2-1
1977 United States def. Australia 2-1
1978 United States def. Australia 2-1
1979 United States def. Australia 3-0
1980 United States def. Australia 3-0
1981 United States def. Great Britain 3-0
1982 United States def. West Germany 3-0
1983 Czechoslovakia def. West Germany 2-1
1984 Czechoslovakia def. Australia 2-1
1985 Czechoslovakia def. United States 2-1
1986 United States def. Czechoslovakia 3-0
1987 West Germany def. United States 2-1
1988 Czechoslovakia def. USSR 2-1
1989 United States def. Spain 3-0
1990 United States def. USSR 2-1
1991 Spain def. United States 2-1
1992 Germany def. Spain 2-1
1993 Spain def. Australia 3-0
1994 Spain def. United States 3-0
1995 Spain def. United States 3-2
1996 United States def. Spain 5-0
1997 France def. Netherlands 4-1
1998 Spain def. Switzerland 3-2
1999 United States def. Russia 4-1
2000 United States def. Spain 5-0
2001 Belgium def. Russia 2-1
2002 Slovak Republic def. Spain 3-1
2003 France def. United States 4-1
2004 Russia def. France 3-2
2005 Russia def. France 3-2
2006 Italy def. Belgium 3-2
2007 Russia def. Italy 4-0
2008 Russia def. Spain 4-0
2009 Italy def. United States 4-0
2010 Italy def. United States 3-1
2011 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
2012 Czech Republic def. Serbia 3-1
2013 Italy def. Russia 4-0
2014 Czech Republic def. Germany 3-1
2015 Czech Republic def. Russia 3-2
2016 Czech Republic def. France 3-2
2017 United States def. Belarus 3-2
2018 Czech Republic def. United States 3-0
2019 France at Australia

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2016 Caroline Garcia, FRA*
2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
2018 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2019 ...(so far) Ash Barty, AUS
*-non-championship team member

2015 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA*
2016 Paul Haarhuis, NED*
2017 Kathy Rinaldi, USA
2018 Kathy Rinaldi, USA*
2019 ...(so far) Julien Benneteau, FRA
*-non-championship team captain

ITF PLAYERS: Kristina Kucova/SVK and Fernanda Brito/CHI
...while the SVK Fed Cup team didn't need her, Kucova needed a singles title. Her win in the $80K in Dothan, Alabama provided her with her first singles crown since taking a $25K challenger in September 2015. It's the biggest pro title ever for the 2007 U.S. Open girls singles champ. The 28-year old -- who qualified and posted MD wins over Astra Sharma, Ellen Perez, Kimberly Birrell and Francesca Di Lorenzo before defeating Lauren Davis in a three-set final -- has delivered some fine tour-level results in recent seasons. In her career year in 2016 she reached a semi in the Montreal Premier 5 event (def. Wickmayer/CSN/Bouchard/Konta) and QF in Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur on her way to reaching a career high of #71, and had another QF in Hong Kong last October. But she hasn't been able to maintain that momentum, and came into the week at #279. Kucova will jump a whopping 83 spots to #196 on Monday.

Meanwhile, Chile's Brito has held the ITF #1 spot since the recent debut of those rankings due to her nine-title 2018 campaign on the circuit. But she'd gone title-less through the first four and a half months of '19 until this week (and came in with two consecutive losses). She righted the ship this week by sweeping the singles and doubles at the $15K Guayaquil (ECU) challenger, defeating Colombian Yuliana Lizarazo in a tight singles final, 7-6(4)/4-6/7-5, and teaming with another Colombian, Maria Paulina Perez, to win the doubles. Brito has now won fifteen small challenger singles titles since the start of 2017, more than any other player.

JUNIOR STAR: Dasha Lopatetska/UKR
...while there were several junior level players -- Peru's Dana Guzman was excellent in zone play, while Vlada Koval (RUS) and Daniela Vismane (LAT) posted dead rubber WD wins in playoff ties -- who held their own in Fed Cup play this week, 15-year old Ukrainian Lopatetska was back putting up good results on the ITF circuit. She didn't grab title #4 of the season, losing in the final to the Fed Cup missing Dutch Arantxa Rus, but she did post wins over two seeds (including Anna Bondar). Still, her breakthrough into the Top 250 will have to wait, as she'll come in at #252 on Monday.

COMEBACK: Marcela Zacarias/MEX
...the $15K challenger in Cancun provided the opportunity for some redemption for Zacarias, and she made the most of it, sweeping the singles and doubles crowns in just her third event back this season after having a provisional suspension for a failed drug test lifted in February. She'd been out since August.

Zacarias, who defeated countrywoman Andrea Renee Villarreal in the singles decider and teamed with fellow Mexican Victoria Rodriguez to claim the doubles, had tested positive for the anabolic steroid trenbolone during last spring's FC tie in Metepec, Mexico. She was forced out of action for seven months while the case was challenged. Finally, after stating that she believed the positive test had come about due to tainted meat, in February she was ruled to be at "no fault" for the failed test, as it was believed it'd been proved "on the balance of probabilities" that she'd tested positive, due to the prevalence of the trenbolone in Mexico's cattle supply. She'd eaten 10.5 ounces of meat at lunch and dinner from a hotel buffet the day before the test was administered.

So, she was judged at "no fault," but was forced to miss seven months anyway before her reasoning was officially accepted. And there you have the drug policy in a nutshell.
WHEELCHAIR: Marjolein Buis/NED and Yui Kamiji/JPN
...the recent run of Korean events continued this week as the Korean Open in Seoul was claimed by Buis, who picked up her first title since last September. The current world #7 (and #3 seed), Buis posted wins over Dana Mathewson (1st Rd.) and top-seeded Sabine Ellerbrock (SF) before defeating South African #2 seed Kgothsatso Montjane 4-6/6-0/7-6(5) in the final.

World #2 Kamiji, playing in her first event since the Australian Open, swept through the Kobe Open in Hyogo, Japan, reaching the final while dropping just two games against a trio of Japanese opponents, then defeating Pastry Charlotte Famin 6-4/6-3 in the final. Partnering with countrywoman Shiori Funamizu, she also took the doubles over Famin & Kanaka Domori.

*2019 ITF FINALS - South Americans*
2 - Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, COL (0-2)
2 - Laura Pigossi, BRA (0-2)
1 - Monserrat Gonzalez, PAR (1-0)
1 - Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR (0-1)
1 - Daniela Seguel, CHI (0-1)

Chakvetadze (& child) Sighting!

All things considered, Garbi *should* probably get the figurative "#1 slot" in the team photo (at least before the tie started), but GGP challenges that notion just by simply being...

Or you could just...

She didn't play, but she had the "final say" on things. Sort of.

A con man going by the name of "Trump" comes to a town declaring that only he can save its citizens from impending destruction. By building a "wall" around the town for their protection... for a price. When called a liar by a lawman (played by Robert Culp) passing through town, Trump threatens to sue, and then doubles down on his threats of doom, even using fire to get his point across.

JUDGE CLEMENT: You here about Trump?
TEXAS RANGER HOBY GILMAN: Yes, sir. What are you gonna do about him?
JUDGE: What do you want me to do?
GILMAN: *Stop* him.
JUDGE: From what?
GILMAN: From taking the town.
JUDGE: Can you *prove* that that's what he has in mind?
GILMAN: It's *obvious.*
JUDGE: But can you *prove* it?

In the end, the con man's warning seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Until the crowd knew that everything that Trump had said was a lie, there was no hope." What was needed was a individual(s) with enought will to step up, speak out and act to uphold law and decency in order to save the town's collective soul.

Ah, 1958 "fiction"... how could they have ever known?

All for now.