It's Fed Cup time again, and really, who wouldn't be thrilled about the prospects?! Most of the United States, plus the world. Hard to get excited about a world competition that is played whenever the calendar allows.
I watched some of Melanie Oudin's match against Argentina's Gisela Dulko, and besides being dumbstruck by the lack of quality of the match (it's rare when a match is so bad that I turn off the television), I had a couple more thoughts. I will share them now.
1. U.S. tennis is in trouble. Did you know that there are four American women in the top 10? Yes, four. And two of them are the Williams sisters. Another is Jill "Gramma" Craybas, who at 34, is decidedly not the future of American tennis. The last one, Beth Mattek-Sands, isn't even playing this tie -- and by the way, married some insurance guy in November. So, yeah, four. There are five Russian women in the top 10. Bad shape, people. The worst part is that the new crop doesn't exactly exude hope for even eventual dominance. If you wonder where all the U.S. women are, let's try the 100s: Julie Ditty, Vania King, Carly Gullickson, Oudin, Ashley Harkleroad, Alexandra Stevenson -- the mediocrity roll goes on and on. It's not even their fault. You have to ask: What's going on over at the USTA? How's that player development program going? Let's ask ...
2. Mary Joe Fernandez? Look, she's seems to be a really nice person. But Fed Cup coach? Hell, she's never even struck me as a really great commentator of the game. I'm guessing she was hired because she gets along with everyone. (Has she ever said anything critical about any player?) But what is it about Fernandez that made the USTA think she's going to be able to crack the whip and be a teacher? Even Pam Shriver would have been a better choice. She has a clear grasp of the game and is not afraid to point out shortcomings in players as she sees them.
Not that the criticism is limited to Fernandez. Her predecessor, Zina Garrison, was no Billie Jean King, either. Quite far from it. Come on, USTA, let's show Martina Navratilova the money! (If she's not busy playing hockey. Or making her 18 millionth comeback to tennis.) And who says the captain has to be a woman? There's Brad Gilbert (who, quite clearly, would have something to say), Robert Van't Hof, who coached Lindsay Davenport, Darren Cahill, Patrick McEnroe (hey, Shamil Tarpishev coaches both Davis and Fed Cup teams. Everybody has a price.), etc., etc. Sure, the real development starts way below the Fed Cup level, but what's happening right now at the top is not a good sign.
Oh, yeah, the U.S. and Argentina are tied at 1-1 right now, thanks to Gramma.