Wrapping up an exciting weekend of Fed Cup action that featured more than a few unexpected results.
It will be Russia vs. the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup final: The Czechs took care of business once again, beating France 3-1 behind two wins from Petra Kvitova and a clutch performance from Lucie Safarova, who saved five match points to beat Caroline Garcia 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1. The defending champions are into their fourth final in five years.
Russia pulled off the upset of Germany in Sochi without its No. 1 player Maria Sharapova, who had to skip the tie due to a leg injury. Behind wins from Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavluchenkova on Day 1, the Russians were able to clinch the tie in the decisive doubles match on Sunday to beat the Germans 3-2.
The Czech Republic will host the final in November, presumably on the fastest indoor hard court it can find. The big question for Russia is whether captain Anastasia Myskina can convince Sharapova and Ekaterina Makarova, Russia's top two players, to shorten their off time to play the final. If she succeeds, a Fed Cup final centered around Kvitova vs. Sharapova is precisely what the competition needs.
Germany left rueing tough decision: Last year's finalists were the slight favorites to beat Russia. The Germans had two players who entered on fire in Charleston champion Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic, who made the semifinals in both Miami and Charleston. But after all that play and the long journey from America, which included a quick stop in Germany to pick up their Russian visas before heading to Sochi, Germany's two best players were left exhausted by the time they arrived.
Given Russia's strength in doubles, Germany absolutely needed a point on Day 1. Captain Barbara Rittner went with Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges. Both women lost, though Lisicki had match point on Pavlyuchenkova before losing 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Petkovic and Kerber subbed in on Sunday and lost just four games between them. Petkovic beat Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-1 and Kerber beat Pavluchenkova 6-1, 6-0. But it was two points too late. Lisicki and Petkovic were completely outclassed by the more experienced team of Elena Vesnina and Pavluchenkova, losing 6-2, 6-3.
Could Rittner have pushed a little harder for at least one of her top players to take the court on Saturday? If Petkovic and Kerber were truly gassed, then Rittner was in a bind no matter what. But if this was in any way a calculated gamble, it backfired in a major way.
No handshake, no problem, as Romania beats Canada: As soon as Eugenie Bouchard made her last-minute decision to play in the tie against Romania, the entire weekend became about her. Could she snap out of her slump to help keep Canada in World Group I? The answer was no. Bouchard went 0-2 on the weekend, losing to Alexandra Dulgheru 6-4, 6-4 and No. 106 in the world Andreea Mitu 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. That's five consecutive losses from Bouchard, all to players ranked outside the top 60.
Bouchard took a lot of heat for her refusal to shake hands with Dulgheru at the draw ceremony on Friday. Let's be clear: This wasn't the first time Bouchard has refused the ceremonial handshake. She did it last year against Slovakia as well, calling the tradition “lame.” But this time it came back to bite her, as Dulgheru got her revenge on the court, planned a fantastic “no-handshake” celebration that went viral, and was celebrated by other WTA and ATP players on Twitter. All in all, this was a disastrous weekend for Bouchard, both on and off the court.
Here's the only vine you need to get caught up on all the handshake drama:
Serena Williams plays three matches in two days but the U.S. falls short: On paper, the Americans should never be short on depth, but Captain Mary Joe Fernandez was stuck after Venus Williams, who originally committed to playing this weekend's tie, backed out at the last minute for personal reasons. Madison Keys was unavailable for a call-up due to a prior agreement. Also, Sloane Stephens wasn't originally nominated for the tie. Fernandez was left to call in No. 57 Lauren Davis as a replacement, along with the previously nominated Christina McHale and Alison Riske. This was not a team that was going to beat Italy.
Serena won both her singles matches, beating Camila Giorgi 7-6 (5), 6-2 and Sara Errani 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3. Italy won the other two singles matches over Davis and McHale to force the doubles. Errani and Flavia Pennetta teamed up to rout Serena and Riske 6-0, 6-3. The loss means the Americans will drop down to World Group II next year.
Timea Bacsinszky carries Switzerland into the World Group: While Martina Hingis's return to singles stole all the headlines, Bacsinszky just put her head down and did the hard work to almost single-handedly get Switzerland the win over Poland. Bacsinszky lost just five games total to the Radwanska sisters, beating Urszula 6-2, 6-1 and then posting a stunning scoreline over No. 9 Agnieszka 6-1, 6-1. Then, with Hingis sustaining an injury in singles—the decision to play Hingis in singles as opposed to saving her for doubles was highly questionable—Bacsinszky paired with Viktorija Golubic to beat Radwanska/Alicja Rosolska 9-7 in the third set to seal the tie.
World Group II could feature some tough early ties next year: With Olympic eligibility tied to Fed Cup participation, both the Fed Cup and Davis Cup will see an influx of top player participation next year. Here's how the World Groups shake out for 2016:
World Group I: Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Romania, Italy, the Netherlands.
World Group II: U.S., Serbia, Spain, Canada, Poland, Australia, Slovakia, Belarus.
World Group II sees a potential mix of players such as Serena and Venus Williams, Keys, Stephens, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Garbine Muguruza, Carla Suarez Navarro, Bouchard, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sam Stosur and Victoria Azarenka. Could be fun.