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Fed Cup Final: U.S. vs. Italy Preview

November 4, 2009 06:00 PM
 

 Melanie Oudin at the 2009 US Open

by Rick Vach, ustaflorida.com

World No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 6 Venus Williams competed against each other a week ago in the final of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships, but neither will compete this weekend for the U.S. in the Fed Cup final at Italy, citing injuries and fatigue from a long tour season. That leaves the U.S. with the two young players who have essentially lifted the underdog Americans to where they are this weekend, into the final -- Alexa Glatch and US Open breakout player Melanie Oudin.

U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez anticipated Palm Beach Gardens' Serena Williams, who had committed to play the final, possibly taking herself out of the line-up as she did last weekend.

"If you look at [Serena's] history at the [WTA] championships she's always had her body break down," Fernandez said prior to Williams withdrawing from the Fed Cup final. "Everybody's pretty beat up and tired...I mean it's a tough time a year to get players to be healthy. So you really just have to deal with the injuries here and there and try to get the best out of the players."

Now with Oudin and Glatch carrying the weight in singles, Fernandez will attempt to bring out the best in Oudin, who has struggled to achieve match wins since her run to the quarterfinals at the US Open. Oudin and Glatch must also contend with the red clay and the partisan crowds in Reggio Calabria, Italy.

"Melanie did have a tough time in Asia [after the US Open], didn't play so well," Fernandez said. "I think partly she was fatigued. I think she did a lot of promotional stuff. She's also been sick. So she had to come back from the tournaments in Europe."

Fernandez says one of the best parts of reassembling her U.S. Fed Cup team for a potential upset in Italy will be again having the beaming Oudin on the squad.

"Her personality is very contagious and it really rubs off on everybody else," Fernandez said.

Oudin and Glatch will be heavy underdogs against the Italian veterans Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone on what Fernandez says is the American's worst surface, red clay.

"It's the Italian's best surface so of course that makes it more of a challenge," Fernandez said. "[Schiavone is] feisty. She also competes very well. One-handed backhand and she's got variety. And Pennetta, everybody saw her this summer, had a great run. And you know she beat Venus along the way, I believe in Cincinnati and [Maria] Sharapova in L.A. So they're both very difficult players. You have to be very patient. You have to really construct points well. And particularly on clay, it's just exaggerated. So there has to be a lot of discipline when you play both those players."

Oudin for her part says she has gotten a grip on the fame and turbulence that came with her run at the US Open.

"All of what happened in New York was a huge surprise for everyone, for my friends, for my family," she told the LA Times on Wednesday. "My life has changed for good and I'm learning how to deal with everything, how to handle situations I never thought about. I feel a lot better about stuff now. It's out there and I'll just be honest about stuff."

Glatch has stayed under the radar, but proved her Fed Cup mettle earlier this year when she recorded her first two wins over Top 30 players in the international competition. A win over Pennetta at the French Open also gives the Italian squad something to worry about over the weekend.

South African-born American Liezel Huber will again anchor the U.S. squad in doubles, and also from a leadership standpoint.

"You know she still cries every time the anthems played, and I think that in itself means so much and it just shows everybody else what a great honor it is to represent your country," Fernandez said of Huber. "Now she's a team leader. She's a little bit older. She has a lot of experience. So she senses you know when she can be a help with a player or need -- you know can help me practice with another player. Like she really has good sense of who needs what when. And then her expertise on the doubles court is phenomenal."

Fernandez will be hoping for a phenomenon on the Italian red clay, where the U.S. will be looking to take home a first Fed Cup title since 2000, when Lindsay Davenport and Monica Seles were the driving forces. The matches this weekend will be shown on the Tennis Channel, with Saturday and Sunday coverage live beginning at 5 a.m. EST.

 

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