There was a full house in Sochi. Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova gave Lisicki and Kerber a roasting. Anastasia Myskina outsmarted Barbara Rittner, with the Russian team beating the Germans to reach the final of the Fed Cup. Accomplished, of course, without Maria Sharapova, who celebrated her birthday today in the States.
“SHARAPOVA WILL PLAY IN THE FINAL”
“The season’s very long. I don’t know. Anything could happen…” This was the most boring answer given at the post-victory press conference.
When she heard the question – “Will Maria play in the final?” – Anastasia Myskina got even more flustered than after the substitutions made in the German team for the doubles. Interestingly, the gentle, happy buzz that was coming from our five girls just stopped as they listened for the reply.
Intending to somehow stifle any disappointment caused by her reply, Myskina added: “Actually, Maria was sending text messages, saying that she was following the match and supporting us.”
“Following the match and supporting us” is obviously the right message for the hierarchy, but not at all what ordinary people wanted to hear. Those who are not Sharapova fans mentioned and continue to mention that Sharapova’s decision not to play was known a long time ago (if not always the case), but they kept that information from the packed stands.
In any case, all the tickets were sold, and those who bought them weren’t simply coming to watch tennis, but to give huge support.
Some VIPs attended the match on Sunday – Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko and President of the Olympic Committee Aleksandr Zhukov.
If you discount the words about tennis being unpredictable, but still being a great sport (the officials only saw Kuznetsova’s defeat and left along with IOC President Thomas Bach for the “SportAccord” conference where, for instance, they were finding out about orienteering), the only subject of conversation was also Sharapova.
“Of course, it’s a shame that Maria didn’t come. The fans were expecting her, but when you have a slight injury, what can you do?” Mutko began in a calm tone. But suddenly he gave a little bit more information. “You know yourselves, with the whole tour and ranking system, players aren’t in control of their own destiny, and need to make sacrifices.”
And we understood that Sharapova possibly could, but would hardly want to get any injuries.
In view of this, the next question was logical, this time addressed to Zhukov.
“The team has reached the final, but will Sharapova be going to the Olympics and will she play in the final of the Fed Cup?”
“First of all, the best players must feature in the squad. Secondly, Maria helped us a lot in Poland. Thirdly, we do actually have an agreement that Sharapova will definitely play in the final.”
Something which required proof.
The questions ended there on this important topic, even though not the most sport-related.
6-0 IN THE BATTLE OF THE CAPTAINS
Myskina was also asked other questions.
“Were you surprised that the German captain Barbara Rittner preferred Sabine Lisicki to Angelique Kerber in the doubles? The latter is a lefty and is currently in good form.”
“What are you talking about?” said Myskina provocatively. “You mean the doubles? Just today?”
In this instance, she wasn’t being rude answering a question with a question. It was just a sign of the sheer delight of someone who had just outwitted an expert in a game of bluff. Rittner has been in charge of the Germans for almost 10 years, compared with Myskina’s one year in the job. But, in the battle of the captains, the Russian won 6-0.
On paper, the German team was stronger than the Russians. In fact, the odds being offered by bookmakers were the same as if the men’s national football teams from both countries were playing each other in Sochi.
Rittner was in control. She confidently put players 3 and 4 in her team in the first matches – Lisicki and Görges. Just a slight hint as to how fresh Petkovic and Kerber would be on the second day.
Myskina didn’t respond to the bluff, although any loss on the first day would basically have meant the end of the tie. Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova were announced for all four singles matches.
The experienced Kuznetsova easily beat Görges. Pavlyuchenkova was actually match point down against Lisicki at 5-6 in the second set, but turned it around to win the third.
-Rittner, as expected, put out the fresh Kerber and Petkovic on the second day. The Russians won a total of four games between them, with Pavlyuchenkova going down 1-6, 0-6, and Kuznetsova 1-6, 2-6. This brought the score overall to 2-2, which is the best we could have hoped for.
Even before the doubles match Myskina was quite happy about all the mind games from Ritter. Pavlyuchenkova got the shout over the number one player Kuznetsova, and was paired with Vesnina for the doubles, even though she had lost badly 20 minutes before. The Kerber/Petkovic option made sense, but Kerber isn’t as good at doubles, and Petkovic wasn’t prepared to play two matches in one day. The Lisicki/Görges option was fresh, but too risky. In the end up, Rittner chose the simplest option, with an appearance by the established pair Petkovic and Lisicki, who went down 2-6, 3-6.
A SMART VICTORY
“You played great, especially with the interceptions,” Elena Vesnina was told at the press conference. After expressing her thanks, she was happy to continue.
“I’ve actually been following Petkovic and Lisicki playing doubles together. Katya Makarova and I just played against them in Indian Wells. I noticed two errors they made on that occasion, which I told Anastasia about today,” Elena said, letting the cat out of the bag. “That’s why the interceptions you mentioned worked. But overall, I need to say ‘thanks’ to Anastasia. She’s tired and has played in two very tough matches.”
“At last, I’ve remembered,” shouted Pavlyuchenkova from the other end of the table, who won the Universiad doubles with Vesnina two years previously.
The whole hall burst into laughter. And on this note, this victorious day came to an end.
Translated by Gerry.