International Tennis Federation, The 2012 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas season gets underway this week with eight World Group nations beginning their bid to lift the trophy. The action also starts in World Group II and four Zone Groups. Czech Republic open their title defence with a tricky away tie against Germany in Stuttgart.
The hosts are missing their top player Andrea Petkovic, but such is the current strength in depth of German women’s tennis that captain Barbara Rittner still has three Top 30 players to call on, led by the in-form Sabine Lisicki.
The important team news for the Czechs is that reigning Wimbledon champion and world No. 2 Petra Kvitova is fit and ready. Russia, last year’s runners-up, start their campaign against Spain in Moscow.
The world No. 3, Maria Sharapova, fresh from reaching the Australian Open final at the weekend, leads a strong Russian team into battle alongside Svetlana Kuznetsova. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario begins her reign as Spanish captain without the services of Anabel Medina Garrigues, which puts added pressure on the shoulders of Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
Belgium and Serbia go head-to-head in Charleroi. Kim Clijsters is missing for the Belgians so the responsibility falls on the experienced duo of Yanina Wickmayer and Kirsten Flipkens to spearhead the home team’s challenge. Jelena Jankovic fronts Serbia’s bid to win their first ever World Group tie and, with Ana Ivanovic a notable absentee for the visitors, Bojana Jovanovski is expected to step up into the singles line-up.
Italy, three-time Fed Cup champions in recent years, have made a statement of intent by naming a full strength team to face Ukraine in Biella. Francesca Schiavone, a former Roland Garros winner, and Flavia Pennetta are the two top ranked players for the hosts, but the form of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci on the singles court provide more options if required.
Kateryna Bondarenko, who at No. 88 is Ukraine’s only Top 100 player, will need to be at the top of her game if the visitors are to have a chance of an upset. The World Group II first round has also thrown up some intriguing ties, including USA against Belarus in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The Williams sisters make their return to Fed Cup for USA, while Victoria Azarenka, who became world No. 1 today after winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, is playing for Belarus. Full coverage is available on the official Fed Cup by BNP Paribas website, including features, reports, photos, interviews, highlights, and live scores and streaming. For more information visit: FedCup.comand FedCup.com/es.
Firsts for Azarenka; Djokovic wins epic final:
The women’s game has a brand new world No. 1 after Victoria Azarenka stunned Maria Sharapova 63 60 in the Australian Open final to claim her maiden Grand Slam title. On Sunday, Novak Djokovic was crowned Australian Open champion for the third time in what will be remembered as one of the greatest finals in Grand Slam history. Djokovic battled past Rafael Nadal 57 64 62 67 75 in five hours 53 minutes in the longest Grand Slam final on record and the longest ever match at the Australian Open.
The world No. 1 came from 4-2 down in the fifth set to record his seventh successive victory over Nadal, and all in finals. Djokovic’s triumph handed him his third successive Grand Slam title, making him just the fifth man in Open Era history to win three majors in a row.
“I’m very proud to be part of this history, part of the elite players that have won this tournament several times,” said Djokovic. “I was very flattered to be playing in front of Rod Laver, in front of the all-time greats, and in front of 15,000 people that stayed until 1:30am. It’s incredible.” The match had looked like it was nearing its conclusion in the fourth set as Djokovic went 4-3 0-40 up on Nadal’s serve, but the ten-time Grand Slam champion roared back to win five straight points and level the match.
An untimely rain shower then caused a short delay and when play resumed with the roof closed, Nadal held his nerve to force the decider. Djokovic’s moment came when Nadal missed an easy backhand pass when he was serving at 4-2 30-15, and he forged ahead with a further break at 5-5.
“I had my chances against the best player of the world,” Nadal said after the match. “For a long time I didn’t feel I was playing at a lower level than him. I am very happy about my mentality, I did alot of positive things, much more than in 2011.”
Azarenka became the latest Grand Slam champion to have benefited from the support of the Grand Slam Development Fund, having been a member of two ITF/Grand Slam Junior Touring Teams in 2004. In stark contrast to Sunday’s match, the Belarusian needed just one hour 22 minutes to dispose of three-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova in a one-sided affair.
Sharapova had started the final with a break but despite an initial 2-0 lead, the 24-year old was unable to assert any kind of dominance, winning just one more game as Azarenka raised her level.
The newly-crowned world No. 1’s previous best result was reaching the quarterfinals at last year’s Wimbledon, but she has started the 2012 season in imperious form, securing her first Grand Slam title on the back of the title at Sydney.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Azarenka. “I have been dreaming and working so hard to win the Grand Slam and being No. 1 is a pretty good bonus.” In the doubles, the unseeded pair of Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek shocked American No. 1 seeds Bob and Mike Bryan 76 62 in the men’s doubles final.
It was Paes’ seventh Grand Slam doubles title, but a first major trophy for Stepanek. Russians Svet lana Kuznet sova and Vera Zvonareva topped Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci for the women’s doubles title, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands partnered Horia Tecau to mixed doubles victory. Tecau was also a member of two ITF/Grand Slam Development Fund Touring Teams back in 1999.