Mattek-Sands, McHale lead U.S. team

BY foxsports • April 5, 2011

How does that song go again? Oh yes. Times they are a-changing.

Serena and Venus Williams took American tennis by storm in the 1990s with their powerful play and show-stopping looks. But after more than a decade at the top, injuries and age have set in and it’s possible that era might be just about over. But who will fill their shoes?

Judging by the draw this week at the WTA’s Family Circle Cup, one would think that the United States has a deep well of talent to draw from. Of course that’s partly attributed to the fact that players clamor to play in Charleston, a great city filled with charm, and in April, you can’t beat the mild temperatures, sunshine and breezes. And maybe the pool is deep, just untapped.

U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez announced her team Tuesday for next week’s tie in Stuttgart, Germany – a do-or-die playoff match for the U.S. to remain in the top-shelf World Group Draw next year.

The U.S. is well-represented at the Family Circle Cup this week to kick off the clay-court season. In fact, all of the players representing the U.S. in next week’s Fed Cup tie are here, including one or two who were considered and didn’t make the cut as the announcement was made Tuesday.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the 26-year-old Minnesota native and highest-ranked playing American, will lead the team, along with Fed Cup staple Melanie Oudin, upstart Christina McHale and tour veteran and doubles specialist Liezel Huber.

The 18-year-old McHale is the U.S. player making noise in Charleston, winning her first two matches, including Tuesday’s second-round upset over No. 8 seeded Alisa Kleybanova 6-1, 6-0. Just last month in Indian Wells, the young American upset former U.S. Open and French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round only to lose to No. 8 seed Nadia Petrova.

“It’s such a big honor,” McHale, who is ranked No. 97 in singles, said of her Fed Cup appointment.

Mattek-Sands, ranked No. 41 in the world in singles and No. 11 in doubles, is somewhat of a walking contradiction. She looks more like a roller girl than a tennis star. She wears black eye paint, white frilly skirts, striped polo shirts and black shoes with her trademarked knee-high socks – and we can’t forget her arm-sleeve tattoo. But she’s a fighter with a 5-6 Fed Cup record heading into next week.

“Germany has a tough team,” Mattek-Sands said Monday after her first-round win over Alexandra Stevenson in Charleston. “Andrea [Petkovic] is obviously feeling really good. I was able to get a win against her earlier this year in Paris, but [Stuttgart] is red clay, indoors, and it’s a totally different surface.”

Also on board for Stuttgart is 19-year-old Oudin, who despite a two-year skid, including Tuesday’s first-round loss to Tamira Paszek, still shows promise, especially in Fed Cup.

“Even when she hasn't been playing that well, she finds a way to rise to the occasion when she's playing for her country and her teammates,” Fernandez said.

And before we completely write off the Williams sisters, Venus – hampered by a leg injury since January – will be traveling to Stuttgart with the Fed Cup team to support them. Even though she is injured, by attending the tie she will retain her eligibility for the 2012 Olympic Games.

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