Friday, 20 November 2015

Fed Cup continues its exciting regrowth

Over the past decade, men's tennis has thankfully redirected its efforts into making the Davis Cup a pillar of the tennis season, and bringing at times the team aspect to a spectacularly individual sport.

Awarding ATP points has persuaded many of the top players to arm themselves with racquets for their nations and a different attitude to the matches is observed both on the court and in the crowd.

The perennial 'poor relation' to the Davis Cup has been the women's version - Federation Cup. For all the same reasons that women's individual tennis is given unfair second rate coverage, the team event has suffered accordingly.  Of course the format has much to do with that - playing all the singles first, and leaving the doubles rubber as the final, often deciding match in the tie is bewildering to me.  Singles is the money spinner with the finest players, and should always be the final match as in the Davis Cup.  However, that is another story.

Despite my (admittedly minor) concern over the format, the Fed Cup has enjoyed a renaissance in the past 5 years due to fierce competition at extremely high levels, and a rivalry between Russia and the Czech Republic which has drawn some of the world's very best exponents of the sport.

Yes, the finals may not have featured the best player, although Serena has appeared in earlier rounds against women and nations which she would never expect to compete on the regular tour (good for tennis), but to see Petra Kvitova (for example) dominate in the Fed Cup over the years no matter how her form may have been in any recent tournaments is proof of the value of this event.

The 2015 final was hosted by the Czech Republic and Russia was the other finalist.  Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova were the number one players for the respective nations, while the strengths of the teams was indicated by the opponents on day one - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia and Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic.

Petra won but only after dropping the first set, while Maria made it 1-1 to finish day one.
The second day featured the top drawer match of Kvitova v Sharapova, the result expected to virtually decide the Cup.
Kvitova won the first set despite a rocky start, and had chances in the second set to win the match, but a typical Sharapova fighting performance took the match to a third set and in Fed Cup fashion, against a fanatical Czech crowd, the Russian champion won her second match of the tie to give her nation a 2-1 lead.

It was then the turn of home country heroine Karolina Pliskova to dig deep into her resolve and hand Pavlyuchenkova her second defeat - the tie was 2-2 and the doubles match would decide the Fed Cup.

Pliskova and Pavlyuchenkova backed up again with partners Barbora Strycova and Elena Vesnina respectively. A roller coaster first set saw the Czech pair up initially but then succumb to the Russians, especially thanks to a hot run from Vesnina.

As was the pattern for the whole tie however, the momentum changed and Pliskova and Strycova held firm, taking the second set and then rolling over the top of any resistance to win the match and the fourth Fed Cup in five years for the Czech Republic.

This was compelling viewing on television - one can only imagine the spectacle live in Prague.

Women's tennis is vastly underrated as an individual sport to watch - Federation Cup proves that women's team tennis provides something extra special.