Fed Cup 2006: Jamea arrives

It was a wild weekend in women’s tennis. Belgium and Italy sent last year’s Fed Cup finalists home and the U.S. pulled off an improbable defeat of Germany as Jamea Jackson officially arrived as the next great American hope. Two of the ties were affected by, well, lack of conditioning, and the other was affected by an injury.

Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne beat last year’s champion, Russia. Clijsters played Maria Kirilenko in the third rubber instead of Nadia Petrova, the top-ranked Russian at number 5 (is Sharapova really Russian?), because Petrova was tired from her loss to Henin-Hardenne the day before. Are you kidding me? What happened to sucking it up so that you can represent your country?

Italy has the 11th and 21st ranked players in the world in Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta, and France had to go with Nathalie Dechy instead of Mary Pierce, who is injured.

Germany’s excuse is that Julia Schruff, their second best player, complained of leg cramps after her loss to Jill Craybas in the second rubber. That’s usually a conditioning issue and this is Germany, it’s not the middle of summer in a tropical country and she didn’t play a four-hour match.

Part of the problem is the Fed Cup format. If this were Davis Cup, the tie would last three days and the second day of competition would be the doubles match. Injured or tired players would get an additional day of rest. Of course, those same players might be required for the doubles match but, for example, Chile decided to rest Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu for the doubles in this year’s tie against the US betting that they could win the last two matches. It didn’t work out in that case but the Fed Cup format of having reverse singles on consecutive days means that one player will play late on the first day and early on the second.

Martina Muller played for Schruff and that was a big deal because Muller is ranked 29 places below Jackson at 104 – Schruff is ranked number 52. Anna Lena Groenefeld beat Jill Craybas in the third rubber to cut U.S.’s lead to 2-1. If Jackson beat Muller, the U.S. would win the tie.

What a difference a day makes. In the first rubber, Jackson was not expected to beat Anna Lena Groenefeld. The pressure wasn’t on Jackson, it was on her opponent. Since Jackson beat Groenefeld and a tie is on the line, Jackson gets a huge upgrade in pressure.

After going up a break in the first set, Jackson understandably faltered. She hit a double fault to give Muller a break point then came to the net to hit a swinging volley. Muller passed her and they were back on serve.

In the next game, Jackson hit an overhead into the bottom of the net and gave Muller a break to go up 4-3. It should have been easier for Jackson – notice how we expect more of her now. Muller has a creampuff serve and her major weapon appears to be a high shot that is somewhere between a topspin looper and a lob.

Jackson slowly settled into her new role as favorite. In the next game, she hit a good forehand down the line for a break point. She got the break to get back on serve and won the tiebreaker easily, 7-2.

She continued to apply pressure and went up a break in the second set. Muller cannot, at this point, hit with Jackson and Jackson is not a particularly big hitter. It could be wishful thinking on my part, of course I’d like the US to come up with new players to replace the rapidly declining stable of American women players, but I think this is a real turning point for Jackson. Her performance here announces her arrival on the tour and should help her confidence immensely. She’s been known as a defensive player but, against Muller, used her quickness to get to the net and force errors.

Jackson got one more break in the second set to win the match, 7-6(2), 6-2, and move the U.S. into the Fed Cup semifinals.

Jackson doesn’t have Davenport’s serve, Serena’s power, or Venus’ length. She’s 5’4” and weighs 113 pounds (can that be right, she looks more solid than that). But she’s quick and aggressive and should be able to make it into the top half of the top 100 and stay there for a while.

It’s not what we’ve been used to but it’s all we got at the moment.

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