By Sandra Harwitt, special to USTA.com
The top singles players for each country, Madison Keys of the U.S. (left) and Karin Knapp of Italy, pose during Friday's draw ceremony.
© David Maxwell
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (right) is fielding a young team of (l to r) Lauren Davis, Christina McHale, Alison Riske and Madison Keys.
© David Maxwell
CLEVELAND – At this week’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal tie, the theme is the New Kids On The Block for the U.S. and Italy.
U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez is proud to bring a team that represents the future of American women’s tennis to her hometown of Cleveland. Only one of her players – the 62nd-ranked Christina McHale, who will kick off the tie Saturday against Karin Knapp – comes to the competition with prior Fed Cup experience, having played in four ties for a 4-3 winning singles record.
The 37th-ranked Madison Keys, who plays second on Saturday against Camila Giorgi, as well as the 46th-ranked Alison Riske and 59th-ranked Lauren Davis, named to play doubles on Sunday, are all making their Fed Cup debuts.
“I think first of all it’s exciting to have young members,” said Fernandez, admitting that the foursome are having the time of their life hanging together this week. “Christina is our experienced one, the veteran at the prime old age of what, 21?”
Although on paper, McHale ranks behind Riske and Davis, Fernandez felt her previous Fed Cup background would be extremely important, earning her a shot in singles on Saturday.
“It’s a different experience playing for your country,” Fernandez said. “Christina has been there before. We’re at home, I think that’s great. We’ll have the crowd support. I think that makes a big difference for the ones that have not played Fed Cup before, to have that as your first experience.”
But it’s not only the Americans fielding a team of Fed Cup newcomers. Their competition is also featuring a mostly untested Fed Cup squad.
The 40th-ranked Knapp, the leading singles player for Italy, has played Fed Cup in the past, losing the one singles match she competed in but holding a 1-1 record in doubles. The rest of the team – the 84th-ranked Giorgi, the 161st-ranked Nastassja Burnett and the 704th-ranked Alice Mateucci have never competed in Fed Cup.
“I think it will be a tough match, very talented match,” said Italian Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti. “They are a young team, so we come here to try hard to win this match and we know it will be difficult.”
Apparently Fernandez forgot to arrange better weather for this Fed Cup tie – it’s cold and snowy in Cleveland – but that is not dampening her spirits of bringing the competition to where she lives.
On Wednesday night she treated the U.S. team to a feast at her home, and the team had fun playing ping pong and hanging out with Fernandez’s family – husband, Tony Godsick, also known as Roger Federer’s agent, daughter Isabella and son Nicolas.
While the U.S. holds a record 17 Fed Cup title since the competition began, Italy has been the team to beat in recent years, winning three of its four Fed Cup titles since 2009.
In all, the U.S. holds a 9-3 winning record over Italy in Fed Cup, with Italy taking the last three matchups. In 2009 and 2010, Italy topped the U.S. in the Fed Cup final, 4-1 and 3-1, respectively. And last year the Italians squeaked out a 3-2 win in the quarterfinals, claiming the fifth-and-deciding doubles match to advance.
As Fernandez suggested during the official dinner on Thursday night, each of the past two years that the U.S. played Italy, the Americans did better than the year before. So on that theory, she’s hoping for a win this weekend.