The Fed Cup Dilemma

After delivering the clinching win for Italy over Lucie Safarova in the Fed Cup semifinals, Roberta Vinci looked flat in her opening round loss to Yaroslava Shvedova in Stuttgart.

The argument about whether tennis belongs in the Olympic Games has been hotly debated in tennis and sporting circles for the past decade. For athletes in most other sports, the Olympics is the pinnacle of their careers. To an outside observer, however, this might not seem to be the case for tennis players. Four times a year, they have a chance to contest in the biggest tournaments in their sport; winning multiple slam titles etches their names into the tennis history books much more than Olympic gold.

Despite having either their flag or their country code etched next to their name on every tournament scoreboard, the only other time players theoretically get the chance to represent their country is in Fed Cup. Some crack under the pressure; Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine’s new No. 1, lost all three of her matches en route to a 3-2 defeat to Canada. Tsurenko made a staggering 91 unforced errors in a three-set loss to Sharon Fichman, a match she and a tie Ukraine was heavily favored to win.

Others rise to the occasion. Australian wunderkind Ashleigh Barty defeated Stefanie Voegele in her Fed Cup singles debut to send Australia into the World Group in 2014. Roberta Vinci delivered the clinching 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3 win over Lucie Safarova to send Italy into the Fed Cup final; on the other side of the world, Ekaterina Makarova capped Russia’s stunning comeback against Slovakia by rallying from 4-2 down in the final set against Daniela Hantuchova to knot the tie at 2-2. She and Elena Vesnina later rallied from a set down in the doubles to put Russia into the finals against Italy.

In an individual sport like tennis, where so much emphasis is placed on singles achievements, players still rate playing for their country incredibly high. But does this national success come at a cost?

Samantha Stosur, who has been carrying the remnants of a calf injury since Indian Wells, went 2-0 in her Fed Cup ties for Australia; she lost in the opening round in Stuttgart to Jelena Jankovic. Vinci, Italy’s heroine, looked listless in a 6-4, 6-2 opening round defeat to Yaroslava Shvedova in Stuttgart as well; the top seeds in the doubles event, she and Sara Errani later pulled out of the doubles event due to Vinci’s shoulder injury. Vesnina slumped to a shocking 6-0, 6-4 defeat to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Makarova dueled with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, her Fed Cup teammate, in the opening round; Makarova slipped up from a winning position, and seemed to run of gas late in the third set.

In Marrakech, Dominika Cibulkova was set to take a wildcard and be the top seed in the event; however, she apparently picked up an injury after playing three rubbers against Russia and was forced to withdraw from the event anyway. As rain wreaked havoc in Chiasso, the Australia-Switzerland tie did not commence until Monday; Romina Oprandi, Switzerland’s No. 1, was scheduled to compete in Marrakech but she also withdrew before play began.

Granted, not every player was negatively affected by her participation in Fed Cup this week. Ana Ivanovic is into her first clay-court quarterfinal since Rome in 2010. Angelique Kerber, who went 1-1 in Fed Cup, is also into the quarterfinals in Germany. Carla Suarez Navarro led Spain back into the World Group and knocked off Caroline Wozniacki in the first round in Stuttgart. Shvedova, who was mired in a dreadful slump, advanced to the quarterfinals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

There have been murmurs that players are largely unhappy with the increase in mandatory Fed Cup participation for the next Olympic cycle. These players put so much heart, effort and passion into playing for their countries, yet are still put in a bind because of the scheduling issues. In a sport where players are constantly representing their nations, it seems like they still end up with the short end of the stick. In certain instances, it’s almost as though a player needs to choose between national glory and individual success.

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