U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez, shown here with Christina McHale, will lead the U.S. against Italy in her hometown of Cleveland.
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U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez wrote an exclusive blog for USTA.com from Worcester, Mass. as she led her team of Serena and Venus Williams, Christina McHale, Liezel Huber and Sloane Stephens to a 5-0 win over Belarus in a Fed Cup World Group II tie.
I am so proud of each and every one of my players. They all contributed to this victory. Christina was exceptional. I thought she played really well both days. I am so proud of her. Serena competed extremely well and found a way to win even though she was not playing her best. She showed the kind of champion she is and how she rises above adversity.
It was so great to see Venus back out there for the doubles match. She had such a good week of practice and really got better reach day. I thought she played really well and hit the ball really well. Liezel I have had every tie and I know what I am getting with her. She once again came through big in practice and in the match and it was great to have Sloane as part of the team this week as well.
It doesn’t happen very often that you win a tie 5-0. In France two years ago, we clinched the tie in the third singles match, so this is the second time we have clinched in three since I have been captain. It is nice, usually you are on the edge every time, but it was great to get through the first three matches and then finish strong, winning the fourth and fifth.
I feel good about Christina starting off tomorrow against Azarenka. She has had a lot of experience in the last year and half, she has played a few Fed Cup matches and has had a great week of practice. Obviously it is a tough matchup against Azarenka but hopefully she can make the most of her strengths, find some weaknesses on Azarenka’s side and we will see what happens but I am looking forward to it.
On Sunday, Serena plays Azarenka, who she has a good record against, and the intensity, desire and will are always there with Serena. Azarenka is coming in with a lot of confidence from winning in Australia, Serena has not played that many matches yet but she looks good in practice, she is moving better, and I think her ankle is starting to feel better. We will see. It is going to be a big match, an important match but I have a lot of confidence in Serena.
We were expecting Govortsova to play in the second singles spot for Belarus. I didn’t know her that well but my team did and they all said that with an indoor hardcourt she would probably be the one to play because she has bigger shots and a bigger game. I watched her practice yesterday; she hits the ball really well, especially off the backhand. We have to be ready. I think she is a dangerous opponent.
I could make some changes for Sunday but we will see how things go tomorrow first. Right now I am very happy with the lineup but we will see how Day 1 goes and then we will go from there as to whether the singles or doubles players change or not.
I always feel great if it comes down to the doubles. Liezel has come through every time it has been a deciding rubber, so fingers crossed. Hopefully we win before that but if we get to 2-all, I like our chances.
It has been a long time since the last Fed Cup we played in April last year in Germany. It is so much nicer to be at home though this time. The last two years we have gone straight from Australia to Belgium last year and France two years ago for our opening Fed Cup round so it is nice to be closer to home this time. I used to play here, the Virginia Slims of Massachusetts were here, so I remember Worcester well.
I think having Serena and Venus here on the team is huge for the younger players. Christina hit with Serena this morning, they played for an hour and half, and it was so intense. Serena barely sits down and is so focused. I think for Christina and Sloane particularly, but to just be around that for me and Liezel, is refreshing and you see why she is such a champion. Just the dedication and the discipline she has in practice, it makes you want to up your game. Christina did a great job and was so focused. It is nice to see someone who has experience help someone who is just starting.
I have talked to Venus and she sounds great. She is on her way here to Worcester and is excited and itching to get out there on the court. It has been hard for her; she has not played since the US Open. She has been practicing and she says she is feeling better and healthier so fingers crossed. But we will see how this week goes in practice, how she is feeling, how she is hitting the ball and like I usually do, make my decision last minute as to the lineup for this weekend.
This is my fourth year as Fed Cup Captain and I have really seen both Christina and Sloane develop. When I first met them, they were 16 year olds and Christina is in the top 40 now and Sloane in the top 90, and just working their way up. To see them progress and develop is just great. That is what the new generation is about. Sloane and Christina both came to the Czech Republic back in 2009 for our semifinal tie and I remember them rooming them together, they were the practice partners, and it is just nice to see their progress. I hadn’t seen Sloane in a while actually and she has improved a lot, just in how she approaches she practice and the purpose in her practice. It just so exciting to see how well they are doing and I am really looking forward to this week.