Four countries will engage in an intense battle of ‘Who cares!’ this weekend when the U.S. faces the Czech Republic and Russia squares off against Italy in the Fed Cup semifinals.
Since the rise of Russian women’s tennis, the Russians have lifted the Fed Cup trophy in four of the last five years, and the unstoppable juggernaut will again lift it in 2009. The Williams sisters have no interest in representing the U.S. in the “prestigious” international competition. The Serbs, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, are too new on the scene, and are still in the process of moving Serbia into the top World Group.
Nine of the current Top 10 on the WTA rankings are American, Russian or Serb players.
That leaves “the rest,” and France as the only country with two players in the Top 20.
Without the Williams sisters, the U.S. fields No. 39-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands and rookies Melanie Oudin and Alexa Glatch against a Czech squad that isn’t pulling in any TV ratings with their line-up. That semi is a toss up, not that you’d sit through a rain delay to see the outcome if the Bennigans outside the stadium in Brno, Czech Republic, has a two-for-one special.
In the second semifinal, Italy’s Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are overwhelming underdogs against the Russian team. The Russians have three Top 10ers to choose from in Vera Zvonareva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova. Good luck there.
The difference-maker in Russia racking up all these titles is team captain Shamil Tarpischev. He rules Russian tennis with an iron fist. On the other side of the coin, U.S. tennis is ruled by cash — the Williams sisters don’t see enough cash on the table, so they won’t play. Serena is injured right now, but she wouldn’t be playing if she was healthy. Venus also took a pass. No thanks. There are dresses to design and movie openings to attend. Don’t know what Russia pays their players, but if it was a free beer coupon for said Bennigans, that would be enough. Part because they love to represent country, part because they are scared of Tarpischev yelling at them, part because Bennigans is not bad.
Perhaps because the Williams sisters didn’t come up through the U.S.-funded tennis system, they feel no allegiance to represent the U.S., as opposed to many players who feel it is one of the greatest honors in tennis, to represent your country in international competitions. Regardless, the U.S. is lucky to be in the World Group without top player representation. Check back in a couple years.
Just present Russia with the trophy now and be over it, save two weekends of poor representation of the international championship that should focus top players and top nations all the time — but doesn’t. Fed Cup needs help.
Italy, to note, won the Fed Cup three years ago with the help of Belgium, which it beat in the final. Italy beat a Kim Clijsters-less Belgium in the final. But in the first round that year, Russia ran into a buzz saw, drawing Belgium and losing to former No. 1s Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.
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