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The Americans will try to regain their place in the Fed Cup World Group when they play France at home in April, the ITF announced on Tuesday.
The United States lost to Italy 3-1 in the first round of World Group play last weekend in Cleveland, where captain Mary Joe Fernandez fielded a young team of Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis. Meanwhile, France, which featured Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic, defeated Switzerland 3-2 in World Group II to earn a shot at promotion to the top-flight World Group next year. The host city has yet to be determined.
In other notable ties finalized Tuesday, Eugenie Bouchard-led Canada will host the Slovak Republic, which should include Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova. Canada is looking to earn promotion to the World Group for the first time since 1994. No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, the highest-ranked player consistently committed to the competition, will head to Spain for a tie that will likely be held on clay, her worst surface. Poland hasn’t made the eight-team World Group since 1994.
The Watch List returns to spotlight the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week the WTA yields the floor to Fed Cup, while the ATP goes back indoors and on clay for three ATP 250 level events.
While Davis Cup featured the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, the first round of Fed Cup is completely lacking in star power. Angelique Kerber is the only top-ten player taking part in a World Group tie, with the traditional powerhouses fielding some comically weak teams. Just look at the team Russia is fielding, which features no player ranked inside the top 150.
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Rafael Nadal goes for an unheard of nine-straight titles in Monte Carlo, while Serena Williams is in action for Fed Cup.
Monte Carlo Rolex Masters
In the pantheon of absurd records and statistics that make up Rafael Nadal’s “King of Clay” portfolio, none is as viscerally striking as his eight-straight titles in Monte Carlo. His last loss in The Principality was to Guillermo Coria in 2003, when he was just 16 years old. He returned two years later and hasn’t lost a match since, coming into this year’s tournament on a 42-match win streak. He comes into the tournament as the No. 3 seed for the first time since 2010 and he’s been drawn into Andy Murray’s half of the draw, with Novak Djokovic and his gimpy ankle firmly on the other side along with Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet. Not that it really matters, especially given Djokovic’s injury concerns. Nadal is the man to beat here and he’s the favorite. But that doesn’t mean he’s the only one we’re watching this week.
Serena and Venus Williams will play together on the U.S. Fed Cup team for the first time since February 2012 when the Americans host Sweden in the World Group Playoffs on April 20-21 in Delray Beach, Fla. Along with Sloane Stephens and Varvara Lepchenko, the Americans are fielding a surprisingly strong team comprised of the top four American women, all ranked inside the top 30.
Sweden will send a team led by 54th-ranked Sofia Arvidsson, Johanna Larsson, Hilda Melander and Sandra Roma. The U.S. is attempting to avoid relegation to World Group II after losing their opening tie 3-2 to Italy.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Agnieszka Radwanska said the Polish Fed Cup team has written a letter to the ITF complaining about the crowd and tournament conditions during the Europe/Africa Group I playoff in Eilat, Israel in early February. Radwanska, who gave a remarkably curt press conference after the tie, was disappointed in the umpire’s inability to control the hostile crowd during Poland’s tie against Israel.
“[There were] a lot of things going on that shouldn’t be on that level,” Radwanska told a small group of reporters during her pre-tournament press conference at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday. “A lot of unfair behavior and things going on there. They wanted me to go to the press conference. After those kind of matches I shouldn’t really go. I went but my answers just showed how the matches went.”
The Report Card hands out grades for the week in tennis. Last week, it was all about Rafael Nadal’s comeback at the VTR Open, though the women drummed up some dramatics in the Fed Cup.
Rafael Nadal: B-plus. Was Nadal rusty in his return to the court in Chile? Absolutely. Was his play a serious cause for concern? Absolutely not. The most important result of the week was that Nadal completed his matches, didn’t have to call a trainer and, on the whole, did not seem overly cautious or hesitant with his left knee. As Rafa emphasized all week, winning the title was secondary to the diagnostics.
“A week ago we didn’t know how the body would respond,” he said. “[Now] at least I know we can compete at a certain level. I think that was a positive week. … I will try to keep improving my physical sensations day by day, which is the most important thing because I don’t feel that my tennis level is bad. I need more time on court.”
The idea that Nadal needs time to get back into match mode was clear. After cruising through four relatively straightforward matches, Nadal ran into Horacio Zeballos. The 27-year-old Argentine was riding high on confidence after beating three seeds to make the final, running his tally to 14 consecutive wins on clay (including ATP Challengers) in the process. Zeballos went for broke in gunning for the lines, and, more often than not, he made his shots. It was “Rosol on Clay” if you were so inclined, and Zeballos exploited Nadal’s rusty movement and lack of confidence by stepping in on anything left short.
It will take some time before Nadal gets the measure of his forehand in match shape (his depth was woeful throughout the week), and he’ll need some more play to regain his split-second decision-making clarity. There were too many drop shots left unchallenged by Nadal, which could have been more mental than physical. Just give him some time.
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. Rafael Nadal highlights this week’s lineup.
Clear your calendars for Wednesday: Nadal takes the court at the VTR Open in Vina Del Mar, Chile, for his first singles match since losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round of Wimbledon. That’s a seven-month layoff for the 11-time major champion, who was seen practicing hard in Chile this weekend with strapping around his left knee. Nadal said he still feels pain, but he’s opted to come back two weeks earlier than anticipated to test the knee and his confidence.
He’s been downplaying his chances in his return, but the ATP 250 field should offer little resistance early. He has a bye in the first round and will open against either a qualifier or No. 92 Guido Pella. If the seeds hold, he’ll face Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Jeremy Chardy and defending champion Juan Monaco for the title. Chardy is the hot hand after beating Juan Martin del Potro at the Australian Open and making the quarterfinals, while Monaco just won two matches on clay over the weekend in Davis Cup. Nadal has also paired with Monaco for doubles. Their first match will be Tuesday.
I'll save the suspense as far as nadals return this week. If he plays the tournament on clay this week, he rolls to the title ….—
(@andyroddick) February 03, 2013
Back in the spring, the International Tennis Federation announced its intention of strengthening the link between a player’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup participation to Olympic qualification. Prior to the 2012 London Olympics, players had to play two ties in the two years prior to the Olympics to maintain their Olympic eligibility. But in May, the ITF announced it would double those requirements for the 2016 Rio Olympics, requiring players to play four ties over four years to be eligible. The ITF made the decision without consulting the players, leading to Maria Sharapova having a one-on-one sit-down in Miami with the higher-ups at the ITF to discuss her displeasure.
“I’m disappointed,” Sharapova told the press in Stuttgart. “I met with them one on one in Miami. They didn’t listen to us at all.”
Of course, moaning about the rule change in advance of the London Olympics would have been an unnecessary negative distraction, but now that the dust has settled, WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster has remained firm about the WTA’s opposition to the ITF’s new rules. In this interview with Steve Flink for Tennis Channel (well worth a read), Allaster explained the Tour’s rationale for refusing to renew its agreement with the ITF, even after the ITF reduced the obligation to three ties in four years.
“The ITF decision on commitment to Fed Cup for the 2016 Olympic Games is a clear indication that they are not moving anywhere near the idea that Fed Cup and Olympic Games eligibility should be delinked.”
Allaster elaborates, “They think that it is fair and they believe playing the Olympic Games is a reward for representing your country. That is where we have a philosophical difference. We believe our athletes are playing for their country every day. I know when Maria Sharapova was in the trophy presentation after winning the French Open at Roland Garros, the Russian flag was raised. Draw sheets always have the athlete’s country beside their name. Compared to other professional sports, athletes at the caliber of ours in tennis do not have the same eligibility requirements with their national associations or their international federations. We think that is unfair.”
In last week’s Toss, SI.com tennis producer C.W. Sesno came on to discuss the recent stability at the top of the WTA, a change from the last four years. Here to stay, or another fad? The readers have spoken, but barely: 56 percent of poll takers think the WTA’s top four will remain competitive at the top of the rankings.
This week, tennis blogger Ben Rothenberg joins The Toss to delve into the recent changes the ITF put in place for qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.
Today’s Toss: Should there be separate Olympic qualification requirements for tennis players?
Courtney Nguyen: Thanks for joining me this week, Ben. I don’t know about you, but the “B”, “L”, “U” and “E” keys on my laptop are no longer functioning thanks to Madrid, so let’s do everyone a favor and not talk about that whole mess. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have Olympic fever than a bad case of the blues.
Before we dive into this debate a bit of background is in order. The ITF recently announced a significant change in the qualification rules for the 2016 Olympics. Currently, players must make themselves available for two Davis Cup or Fed Cup ties in the two years before the Olympics, hence Serena Williams’ recent sojourn to Kharkiv, Ukraine in April. But beginning after the London Olympics, players will have to make themselves available to play four times in an Olympic cycle. It’s fairly obvious that the impetus for the change is to use Olympic qualifying as a way to get players to commit more regularly to Davis Cup and Fed Cup, competitions that are run by the ITF. The change hasn’t gone down well with the top players, who have complained that it forces them to play more in a season that is already long and grueling.
We can talk about whether the changes are good or bad but I thought it would be fun to discuss an even broader issue: Should there even be Olympic qualification rules for tennis players? Why not just do a modified direct acceptance scheme (limiting the number of players from a single country) like they do at the Slams, which is based entirely on ranking?