By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
Melanie Oudin and Liezel Huber at the pre-draw press conference.
The U.S. Fed Cup Team at the pre-draw press conference.
- With all of its players now in Lievin, Wednesday was the U.S. Fed Cup Team's first full day of practice and preparation for the weekend quarterfinal tie against France.
U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez’s team of Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Shenay Perry took to the clay court of the Stade Couvert Regional to begin preparing for the competition, which looks to be fairly evenly matched.
And there are no concerns about the team meshing together on and off the clay court with Oudin and Huber (the world No. 1-ranked player in doubles) on the team for each of the three ties in 2009 along with close friends Mattek-Sands (who played in the semifinal tie last year) and Perry. And their common desire to represent their country as well as great play on the court made them easy choices for Fernandez in selecting the team.
“I think playing away is always more challenging. I think it is a pretty even match-up,” Fernandez said. “When you are away, the people who are home are a little more of the favorites with the crowd support and their surface.
“We have had a similar team for every round (in 2009),” she added. “Liezel and Melanie have been on every team, Bethanie played in our semifinal. This will be Shenay’s first time with me but she has played Fed Cup before. We try to get the best team assembled and the ones who really want to be here and compete.”
Fernandez and French Captain Nicolas Escude will officially announce their lineups for the best-of-five World Group series at the draw ceremony on Friday but Oudin, ranked No. 53, is likely to be the U.S.’s No. 1 singles player. She is currently the highest-ranked singles player of the tie with Alize Cornet, at No. 65, the highest ranked French player. After helping the U.S. reach the final for the first time since 2003, Oudin is hoping for another successful season, which could start by defeating France this weekend.
“I think we had a great year last year. I don’t think anyone expected us to get to the final,” Oudin said. “We were down match points in the semifinal against the Czech Republic and Liezel and Bethanie pulled that one out. I think this year we are looking forward to another great year of Fed Cup and everyone on the team is really looking forward to playing.”
In the No. 2 singles spot Fernandez could go with either Perry, ranked No. 102, or Mattek-Sands at No. 140 in singles. However, Mattek-Sands will likely pair with Huber for the doubles rubber with her No. 16 world doubles ranking. Mattek-Sands and Huber sent the U.S. to the final with a come-from-behind three set doubles victory against the Czech Republic last year.
“It was definitely exciting for me (to get the call to play Fed Cup). Any time you have the chance to play for your country; it is definitely a great honor,” Perry said of her first Fed Cup tie since 2006 and first nomination under Fernandez. “I feel comfortable with the team and with Mary Joe so I am looking forward to the experience and the next few days.”
To prepare to face the French team of Cornet, Julie Coin, Pauline Parmentier and Stephanie Cohen-Aloro, Mattek-Sands will go to one of her favorite sources: YouTube. Mattek-Sands is the only member of the team to have faced Cornet in singles – at the 2008 US Open – and to have faced Coin but to stay fresh on each player’s game, she scouts their performances online as just the beginning of the team’s preparation this week.
“It was great playing last year in the Czech Republic, we were down what felt like 6-0, 5-0 and we came back. I really love playing Fed Cup,” Mattek-Sands said. “I really wish I could have played in the final last year (against Italy) but I was not able to, I was a little injured but I get another chance to play here so I am really excited.
“It was the first practice today but the best way to prepare is I watch players on YouTube and see how they play,” she added. “I haven’t played Cornet in a few years, so she might have worked on some things since then but I am sure the next few days we will go over how all the French players play.”