Williams sisters

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WTA Charleston Friday Gallery: Williams Sisters, Keys, Burdette and more

Madison Keys

CHARLESTON, SC (April 6, 2013) – Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy was on hand Friday for all the action at the Family Circle Cup. Players on court that day included Serena and Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Mallory Burdette, Eugenie Bouchard, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Varvara Lepchenko and Sorana Cirstea.

Venus and Serena Williams return mediocre at best, Kim Clijsters withdraws, Helfant to step down – The Friday Five

AEGON International - Day One

By Maud Watson

Mixed Results

The much-anticipated return of the Williams Sisters occurred this week in Eastbourne, and it was mediocre at best. For Venus, the grass courts proved once again to be her happiest hunting grounds as she has progressed through the tournament to the quarterfinals against some quality opponents before bowing out in three sets to an in-form Hantuchova. It seems that no matter what her injuries or results are coming into late June, the elder Williams always manages to up her game when she steps onto the well-manicured lawns of Great Britain. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for younger sister Serena. She struggled to eke out a victory against the inconsistent Pironkova and ultimately crashed out in the second round to Vera Zvonareva, whom she had beaten in last year’s Wimbledon final. Granted, this loss is unlikely to shake her confidence going into Wimbledon. She’s always found a way to up her game when it matters most, and opponents have typically found it harder to take out Serena on the game’s biggest stages. But her play this week is unlikely to inspire a ton of fear in the competition, making it hard to predict how Serena will fair. She could just as easily win the title as crash out early, and so could her sister for that matter. Either way, should make for interesting viewing.

Questionable Seeding

The Wimbledon seeds were announced on Wednesday, and once again, the seeding committee exercised its right to name the seeds as they saw fit rather than stick to the rankings. This policy is not the issue. In fact, it might not hurt Roland Garros to consider doing the same thing (Did anyone really think Roddick stood a legit shot at winning there even when given one of the top ten seeds?). But the seeding of Venus and Serena at the 2011 Championships is more than a little mind boggling. Sure, technically the seeding committee’s hands were a little tied. At the time when the seeds were announced, they couldn’t have known exactly how Eastbourne would play out. They’ve also historically considered grass court performances of the past two years in their decisions. Based on this, the committee saw fit to seed Serena 8 (and ultimately 7 with the withdrawal of Clijsters), which is nearly 20 places higher than her current ranking. Sister Venus is seeded a lowly 23 (albeit ten places higher than her current ranking). Serena has won Wimbledon the last two years, but Venus was the runner-up to Serena in 2009. This is also one of the venues in which she has outshined Serena in terms of titles, and she has already proven the stronger of the two in their respective comebacks. This then begs the question that if Serena’s seed was bumped so high, why not bump Venus a little higher as well? It’s unlikely the other top seeds want to see Venus in the early rounds. Ultimately, time will tell how this evolves, but the wide disparity in seeding of the two is a real head scratcher.

Over and Done

Before the first ball was struck, Kim Clijsters’ shot at her first Wimbledon title was ended when she aggravated the ankle injury she sustained earlier this season. With Clijsters potentially little more than a year out from her permanent retirement, there might have been some initial concern that this latest setback would prove the final nail in the coffin and lead to an ever earlier exit from the game. But Clijsters’ management team has already stated she’s looking to get ready for the summer hard court season. She has typically posted her strongest results during that time of year, so expect her to be ready to add a fourth US Open victory to her impressive list of titles.

Fitness Race

Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who has also had to overcome his share of injuries as of late, is also dealing with a foot injury, which he aggravated last week in Halle. As the 2002 champion of Wimbledon, Hewitt will be doing all he can to compete at SW19. Aside from the prestige and historical significance of the tournament, Hewitt has an added incentive to do all he can to be fit to play there. Due to his early exist last week, he has dropped to 130 in the rankings. He is in desperate need of a solid run at a big tournament if he wants to get his ranking up to where he can gain direct entry into some of the bigger summer hard court events. Besides, with all that he has been through and the fighting spirit he has shown over the years, it would be great to see “Rusty” find a way to compete and put together another fine performance.

The Hunt Begins

The search will soon begin for a new ATP World Tour Director as Adam Helfant has announced that he will be leaving the ATP at the end of the year for professional reasons. Helfant’s three years with the ATP have had their pros and cons. He did manage to secure two major sponsors, increased commercial revenues, and reduced the crowded calendar ever so slightly. But there were also gripes, with most of those coming from the tournament directors of the smaller 250 events. They claimed that Helfant was virtually inaccessible to them and blamed his exhibition policy for undermining their success. So, while Helfant was not without his faults, he did leave the tour in a better position than where he found it, and hopes are high that his successor will continue to build on this.

Caroline Wozniacki travels in style

Taken from Caroline Wozniacki's Facebook

When you travel then do it in style is what Caroline Wozniacki must have thought when she took up a friend’s invitation for a ride in a private jet to the Porsche Grand Prix tournament in Stuttgart.

Recently the question was asked if Wozniacki has a shot at the Roland Garros 2011. With Kim Clijsters out, though her participation is a maybe now,  and the Williams sisters sidelined some  people seem to  think it is going to be a breeze. However Caroline herself said that she is unsure.  Major factors like draw and form and a little luck perhaps will decide on whether she can win the Roland Garros tournament this year.

The big question remains ofcourse can Caroline Wozniacki win multiple Grand Slams?  The first one is only a matter of time but winning more than one on multiple surfaces would be the real accomplishment I feel.  We will have to see how much of a champion Wozniacki really is.

Take a vote in the poll and let me know if you think that Caroline Wozniacki can win more than one.

[polldaddy poll=4943327]

Photocredit © Ralf Reinecke

Ana Ivanovic Splits with Coach – The Friday Five

Ana Ivanovic

By Maud Watson

Déjà vu?

Andy Murray wasted no time in returning to the court after losing his third consecutive Grand Slam final, as he took on Marcos Bagdhatis in Rotterdam earlier this week. The Cypriot’s ranking is well below what fans and his peers know he’s capable of, but his straight-set dismissal of Murray is still worrying for supporters of the Scot. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead (a double break, mind you), Murray’s game just crumbled as he meekly made his exit 6-4, 6-1. It would be curious to know if he currently had a full-time coach, if that coach wouldn’t have advised him to take more time off to mentally recover from his Australian loss. His game went into a downward spiral quickly after his tearful defeat at the hands of Federer in 2010, and he seems to be starting his 2011 post-Oz campaign the same way. Hopefully he’ll find his head and his game a little sooner this time around.

Broken System

People are speculating that for the first time in approximately four years, the U.S. Fed Cup team is likely to include both Venus and Serena Williams on the roster. So despite their poor track record of participation, why are so many suggesting that the Williams sisters are apt to play, or at least show up, for the Fed Cup tie in April? Because according to ITF rules, players must make themselves available for two separate ties prior to the Olympics should they wish to represent their countries in the Games. To be fair, the Williams sisters are not the only high profile players to take advantage of this faulty system, as Maria Sharapova has done the same thing. But this is a rule that needs to be changed. It’s not fair to those women who answer the call on a regular basis to represent their nations in Fed Cup only to lose out on playing something as prestigious as the Olympics to a higher profile (albeit probably more talented) player who has done the bare minimum in Fed Cup competition over the last four years. It’s also a joke to say players like the Williams sisters and Sharapova want to play the Olympics to represent their countries. If they really cared about representing their countries, they’d play more Fed Cup to begin with. And finally, seems if the ITF really wants to raise the profile of events like the Fed Cup, it should be doing more to ensure the game’s top stars compete on a more consistent basis to drive more interest in the competition.

Icing on the Cake

For sure Rafael Nadal would have preferred to have completed the “Rafa Slam,” with a win in Melbourne, but the Spaniard did receive one bit of good news as he nears wrapping up his recovery from a leg muscle tear. Nadal was given a high honor as he was named the recipient of the Laureus Award for Sportsman of the Year. Having won three of the four majors in 2010 and finishing as the World No. 1, the announcement didn’t come as a shock. Congratulations to Nadal, and it’s great that his efforts have once again brought valuable recognition to his sport.

Coaching Carousel

Serb Ana Ivanovic has split with her most recent coach, Antonio van Grichen. The two had only been working together since the off season, but apparently were unable to gel, and the former World No. 1 once again finds herself coach-less. At least Ivanovic will be looking to add some stability to her game by hiring a full-time hitting partner, but she really needs to find a full-time coach. Her game was showing signs of turning back in the right direction, but it’s hard to imagine her continuing this trend on her own.

Royal Touch

The web as been a-buzz with details and images surrounding the popular royal couple of Prince William and fiancée Kate Middleton. Rumor has it that Middleton, a tennis player and fan herself, will be one of the principle royal figures at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. In fact, she may even serve as the trophy presenter to the women’s singles winner. As popular as the young couple has been, such a role could entice non-tennis viewers to tune into the final and maybe even bring some new fans into the fold.

Ana Ivanovic Snubbed By Rogers Cup – The Friday Five

Ana Ivanovic

By Maud Watson

The Plot Thickens – Once again, mystery surrounds American tennis star Serena Williams. No doubt she’s injured, and no doubt she is questionable for the final major of the year. But it’s fair to say that there are a number of question marks surrounding how Williams acquired the injury and just how much of a threat is it to her chances of competing at the US Open. First we heard she hurt her foot and would miss the World Team Tennis season. Then we hear she needed stitches and has pulled out of all of her scheduled hard court tune up events. Now we know the World No. 1 has undergone surgery and may not make it to the Big Apple. Throw into the mix the type of injury (deep cuts on the bottom of her foot from stepping on broken glass in a restaurant), and Serena Williams has left many in the general sports world scratching their heads. The good news for Williams is that if she is able to play the US Open, she’ll still be considered one of the heavy favorites. She’s never needed many matches going into a major to post big results, so while not ideal, her lack of preparation will not be nearly as detrimental as it would be to her fellow competitors. And perhaps just maybe this latest injury will work up a little sympathy for the 13-time Grand Slam champion so that others prove less apt to revisit her infamous meltdown in the semifinals against Clijsters last year.

Serbian Snub – One of the more surprising stories of the week was the wildcard snub of Ana Ivanovic for the upcoming Montreal event. Tournament organizers defended the snub, stating that they wanted to ensure Quebec native Stephanie Dubois, whom they felt was an equal, if not bigger draw than Ivanovic for the Canadian crowd, received a wildcard into the event. As Ivanovic never quite reached the popular status of a Maria Sharapova or Williams sisters, it’s difficult to argue with the logic of the tournament organizers who presumably know what their fans want. Playing the qualies could also work in Ivanovic’s favor. Players have talked about the added hunger and mental boost that comes with earning a place in the main draw, not to mention the added advantage of having a few matches under the belt when coming up against an opponent when main draw play is underway. So while already having a ranking that would automatically see her entered in the main draw would have been preferred, qualifying for and playing the Montreal event has the potential to pay dividends later.

Recognition for Martina – The International Tennis Hall of Fame has announced that the 2010 recipient of the Eugene L. Scott Award will be none other than Martina Navratilova. The award is being given in recognition of Navratilova’s contributions to the sport of tennis, which includes her commitment to insightfully and thoughtfully commenting about the nature and state of the sport. It is appropriate that Navratilova receive this award at this stage in the game, given that she has continued to contribute to the sport of tennis in the face of her own battle with breast cancer.

Two for Two – Rising Hungarian star Agnes Szavay completed two spectacular weeks this past weekend, taking her second title in as many weeks in the Czech capital of Prague. She won the Budapest title the previous week in her native Hungary. Granted, the fields at both of these events were not exactly stacked the way that they are at the top tier tournaments, but Szavay may finally be starting to gain some consistency and deliver on the some of the promise she showed earlier in her career. Her Prague win saw her jump 11 places in the rankings, and she’ll be keen to maintain the momentum and raise that ranking even more over the course of the hard court summer season.

Mixed Bag – In a recent poll of America’s favorite female sports stars, tennis took the cake, with current stars Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova making the list, as well as Anna Kournikova and tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova also earning spots among that elite ten. It was great to see such a wide spread among the tennis stars that appeared on the list, and particularly for someone like Billie Jean King who played a huge role in laying the groundwork for women’s tour, to see women’s tennis so well represented had to be immensely satisfying. On the flip side of all of this, no male tennis player earned a spot among the top ten male sports stars. One could argue they face stiffer competition with the popularity of the NFL, NBA etc., but it was still mildly surprising to not see the likes of Federer or Nadal on the list. Not that either of the European men will be broken up about losing a popularity contest in the United States, but it would still be great to see the men fare a little better in 2011.

MARIA WHO? CAN WIMBLEDON RESURRECT THE RUSSIAN?

Maria Sharapova

By Peter Nez

Sitting with some friends at a coastal tavern, throwing back some vodka cranberries (just barely a splash) made by a bartending staff that was made to pour the perfect liquid delight for squeezing every last drop of tension out of the five senses, the discussion turned over to a forgotten champion, a forgotten giant amongst women: Maria Sharapova. “You know what I love about her?” said my cohort, in a solemn tone, “the way she walks. She has one of the most regal walks out of any of the women on tour. She walks like she isn’t fazed by anything, like she owns the world.”

I always liked Maria, Masha as I like to call her. She possesses the perfect mixture of charm, fight, tenacity, elegance, and charisma out of any of the WTA contenders, and has a mental agility that can be on par with the likes of Nadal, outlasting her opponents with sheer will, and brushing off squandered opportunities without the slightest hint of hesitation. Rarely do you see Sharapova hang her head in resignation or “walk” to the chair on a changeover after she had just been broken with the plod of the dismayed. She has an uncanny elevation of spirit and marked maturity for someone only twenty three years of living. And yes, most of that living has taken place in the world of money, contracts, planes, cars, fame, and hoopla galore, and yet there is a residue of innocence in all she engages in; a quiet gratitude that resides in all her activities and interviews that are a testament to her character which is as rich as they come. Yes, she is beautiful, and yes, she has all the makings of a diva snob, but there is something more to her than that, something brimming under the surface.

After winning her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon, at the tender age of 17, beating the likes of Serena, there were little doubts as to where the Siberian Siren was headed. But being active during the reign of the Williams sisters, who are touted as two of the best players of all time, and plagued by injuries, especially in the last two years, which seemed to come and go ever so often sidelining her on many occasions, missing slams, the doubts began to build and build. In 2008, Sharapova started off the year desecrating the competition at the first slam of the year, the Australian Open, slaughtering tennis sovereigns Lindsey Davenport and Justine Henin along the way, showing the world once again that the Russian dawn was upon us once more. The blistering forehands, the baseline fury, and the romping serve were in full fledged doomsday mode. She was back. She was confident. She had the world in her palm. Unlike other Russian starlets, and most other Tennis babes, Sharapova wanted to be known as a champion, and transcended the label of diva beauty queen with ephemeral results, matching her passionate looks with passionate competitiveness, working harder and harder at improving her game and her ranking. After the AUS Open in 2008, nothing looked to be a huge obstacle in attaining her rights amongst the greatest. Then it happened. A brutal injury to her serving shoulder sent her to the disabled list for almost a year and a half, squelching all the momentum she had built and provoking her to change her game entirely, more specifically her serve – that same serve that pounced opponents into submission time and time again, producing win after win, and essentially the key to her success.

After losing in the first round at the 2010 Australian Open, Sharapova became a ghost in the conversation surrounding the women’s game. She lost to Henin in the third round at the French, and many dismissed her having a chance at ever winning another slam. With the likes of Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone plastered across headlines around the globe, setting off atom bombs in the women’s game, and new faces such as Caroline Wozniacki emerging, creating major cause for concern to reigning dominators Serena Williams, and her sister Venus, Masha loomed nowhere. Let’s not forget the return of Justine Henin which I am sure caused a stamp on the ground, or at least a mild hot flash by Serena when hearing of that bit of news. But grass has replaced clay, and the shift may be the perfect transition for the statuesque Russian.

Maria entered the AEGON Championships, the first grass court event leading up to Wimbledon, as the 17th seed, and nobody gave her a big shot at winning. But grass suits the long limbed Sharapova’s game, and she reached the final, losing only to Chinese top seed Na Li. Nothing builds confidence like winning a tournament before a major, but reaching a final and losing to a worthy opponent is a close second. With all the talk and expectations falling on other women during the Wimbledon Championships, Maria may be able to squeak by if she can retain her old grit and power packed serve. I wouldn’t count her out on grass. I know she wouldn’t. And with the surprise at the French Open and the overall schizophrenia that seems to constantly hover over the women’s game, anything is possible. We may see that prowl all over the lawns of London come final Saturday. Since 2004 Sharapova has won a slam ever two years: 2004 – Wimbledon; 2006- US Open; 2008- Australian Open. 2010- Wimbledon?

WHO DESERVES TO COME OUT ON TOP AT ROLAND GARROS?

Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone

These final few days of Roland Garros will seem like a fairytale for two female players who have waited a lifetime for the opportunity ahead of them.

Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone have battled the odds and their own doubts to reach their first Grand Slam final and overcome the hopes and dreams of Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva respectively who would also have been debuting. Now it’s time to get ready to face each other in a bid to add another name to the list of the many women who have hoisted one of the four majors aloft throughout history.

There has been much talk this week of who “deserves” it. It is one of the most overused phrases in sport and, in fact, is utter nonsense.

The highlight of knock-out competition is the shocks and surprises isn’t it? If tennis was played out in a league format like many other sports than Federer and the Williams sisters would dominate every year wouldn’t they? They consistently perform better than a lot of other players on the tour and would surely drop less matches than their competitors.

However, playing as we do, one slip up and it’s goodnight. So it comes down to not who you’ve beaten, but who is next. This talk of Stosur “deserving” it because she has beaten Henin and Serena and also that of Jankovic because of the career she has held is utter nonsense.

You have to go out there in the right frame of mind for every single opponent and be ready to defeat players of every style and calibre. The player who “deserves” to win the Slam is the one that beats everybody in front of them. Whether that be Federer, Nadal and Djokovic or the drunkard nextdoor and a three-legged dog.

The back stories are fantastic. From the problems of a destroyed childhood home to a Grand Slam final it has been a long and incredible journey for Stosur while Schiavone is the toast of Italy as she becomes the first female from her country to grace such an occasion.

While Dementieva’s retirement will not be the way she would have liked it to happen she’s not going to be one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The challenge for whichever one comes out on top this weekend is now taking this in to the grass-court season and continuing with the drive to beat all and sundry before them and prove that they really “deserve” to be thought of as a champion.

It doesn’t matter who they’ve beaten to get here, it’s what they do now that matters. This is the chance of a lifetime for both these women and I can’t wait to see who “deservedly” becomes the Champion by controlling the situation better than their opponent and beating their winners in the Paris clay.

VENUS WILLIAMS AND LUCIE SAFAROVA REACH THE SEMIS OF THE MADRID OPEN

Venus Williams and Lucie Safarova are the first semifinalists in Madrid. Lucie Safarova is getting the reputation of “giant killer” having beaten numerous top ten players in the past few weeks.

Venus Williams will be the world number 2 when the new rankings come out next week and that means the Williams’  sisters are No.1 and 2 on the WTA Tour rankings. This hasn’t happened since 2003.

Venus Williams beat Sam Stosur 6-3, 6-3 while Lucie Safarova beat Nadia Petrova 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.

Our photographer Ralf Reinecke is currently in Madrid and captured  shots of Venus Williams and Lucie Safarova.

PRAISE TO ANA IVANOVIC: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Serbian Turnaround – Over the course of the last year or so, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic have experienced varying degrees of a downward spiral in their careers, but signs seem to indicate that they are well on their way to turning things around.  Earlier this spring, Jankovic snagged the Indian Wells title, and she showed great mental toughness to defeat both Williams sisters back-to-back in Rome.  With a few more big wins under her belt, she may just find the consistency that took her to the top of the game in 2008.  My bigger praise, however, has to go to Ana Ivanovic.  While she lost early in Madrid to countrywoman Jankovic, she did put together a great run in Rome that included wins over Azarenka, Dementieva, and Petrova.  She’s gotten herself a new coach, she’s lost some weight, and most importantly, her mindset couldn’t be better.  Ivanovic acknowledges that she’s faced her worst fear in experiencing her playing slump and is ready to begin the climb back up the rankings.  Kudos to both, and I hope that they’ll once again strongly factor into the top of the women’s game.

Chaos Reigns – Roland Garros is just over a week away, and with the decimation of the seeds in Madrid, the women’s field couldn’t look more open. After winning Stuttgart, many (myself included) thought that perhaps Justine Henin was worthy to wear one of the heavy favorite tags, but her upset by Aravane Rezai, which included a bagel in the third, might suggest otherwise.  Serena Williams has looked decent for a player who hasn’t competed since the Australian Open, but with her failure to twice serve out the match against Jelena Jankovic in Rome and a listless performance against an inspired Nadia Petrova in Madrid, she hasn’t exactly looked solid.  Throw in that names like Wozniaki, Sharapova, Safina, Dementieva, Kutznetsova, and last week’s Rome champion Martinez Sanchez have all made an early exit in Madrid, and the time may be ripe for a dark horse to step up and take her first Slam victory at the second major of the year.  And yes, I realize that the seeds that have fallen in Madrid haven’t exactly had the greatest past couple of months, but that only sets the stage further for a surprise victor or finalist in Paris.  But then again, the champions are champions because they can turn it on when it counts.  One thing is for sure…it should be an interesting two weeks at the French Open.

Turning Back the Clock – First there was the return of Kim Clijsters that was then followed by the comeback of Justine Henin. Now there’s another news item that harks back to days gone by. With her three-set victory over Francesca Schiavone this week in Madrid, Venus Williams has guaranteed that she will be the No. 2 player in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday. Younger sister Serena currently holds the No. 1 ranking, and the occasion will mark the first time since May 2003 that the sisters have held the No. 1 and No. 2 spots.  While the Williams sisters aren’t dominating the game as they once did when they previously held the world’s top rankings, their longevity and ability to come up big on the sport’s grandest stages, which has led to their return to the top, deserve tremendous applause.

Zero Pressure – That’s what American Andy Roddick should be feeling as he goes into Roland Garros. Roddick opted to skip Monte Carlo and Rome and do his Paris preparation in the Spanish capital. A stomach virus has since forced him to alter his plans, however, as the virus resulted in his withdrawal from the Madrid Masters before even playing a single match. Not that Roddick has probably ever held great expectations on the red dirt, given that it is his worst surface, but this year in particular he should really be swinging freely. Who knows? Perhaps possibly mental lower expectations will ultimately lead Roddick to his best finish in Paris.

Off into the Sunset? – A lot of tennis fans, myself included, are wondering when Spaniard Carlos Moya will decide to hang up his racquet.  The 33-year-old Moya has rarely played in recent months, and his showing against Benjamin Becker this week was dismal. One wonders if he is able to play Roland Garros, which is currently his plan, if that won’t be the last we see of him.  Having won a major, reaching the No. 1 world ranking, and even winning the Davis Cup, Moya has nothing left to prove. And with Moya and his girlfriend Carolina Cerezuela expecting their first child later this year, he may find it the perfect time to call it a career.

THE U.S. FED CUP DILEMMA: WINNING or LOYALTY?

By Blair Henley

The U.S. Fed Cup team pulled off an impressive win over Russia last Sunday – without the Williams sisters.

A roster spot was left open for Venus or Serena, should one of them be healthy enough to play, but both withdrew from the contest just days before it began. Though they both cited lingering knee injuries, their failure over the years to consistently represent the United States has frustrated many American tennis supporters. It’s no surprise that fans are calling for team captain, Mary Joe Fernandez, to stick with this weekend’s winning trio of Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber for the final against Italy in November. If this were a sport that offered bonus points for loyalty, I would immediately jump on that bandwagon. Too bad that’s not the case. Fernandez needs to assemble the team with the best possible chance of winning the Cup, even if that means ousting one or more of the gutsy players who got them there.

The unlikely heroine against Russia was none other than world No. 128 Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is often recognized more for her outrageous wardrobe choices than for her notable play. Though her stellar performance on the final day of competition helped seal a 3-2 victory for the U.S. team, she and Melanie Oudin, currently ranked No. 31, would certainly be underdogs against Italy’s more experienced singles tandem of Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, ranked No. 15 and No. 17 respectively.

Look, it’s not like the U.S. team has multiple options. If Venus and Serena do not make themselves available for the final (they didn’t last year and the team went on to get crushed by Italy), it seems reasonable to keep the roster as it is. But if, by miraculous chance, the sisters are willing and healthy, denying them a spot on the team would be like fighting a war with sling shots when machine guns are readily available.

Not surprisingly, Oudin doesn’t agree with that reasoning. When asked who she thought should play against Italy, her answer was clear: “The people that have gotten us there.”

“I think that is the fairest thing to do,” she went on to say. “You should have enough faith in that team to be able to bring them to the finals.”

Would that be fair? Yes. Would that be smart? No. Oudin’s answer, though undoubtedly stemming from an admirable desire to represent her country, is a bit shortsighted. She lost singles matches to both Pennetta and Schiavone in last year’s final. I would hope she would want Fernandez to send the team most capable of victory.

What people seem to be missing here is that the contribution of Oudin, Mattek-Sands and Huber would by no means be invalidated if that same team did not play for the title. The fight they showed against a formidable Russian team is, after all, the reason the Americans have a chance for the championship in the first place. The relatively small percentage of people who actually pay attention to Fed Cup results aren’t going to forget that.

It’s been ten years since the United States last brought home a Fed Cup title. Mary Joe Fernandez would be wise to do everything in her power to win another one with Venus and Serena before they decide to retire altogether. There’s no shame in that.

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