McHale to open U.S. Fed Cup playoff
Christina McHale will play opening singles for the U.S. Fed Cup team when it faces Germany in a critical playoff this weekend without the Williams sisters.
The 18-year-old McHale, ranked 82nd, takes on No. 19 Andrea Petkovic on Saturday. Melanie Oudin meets Julia Goerges in the second singles. Reverse singles and doubles, if necessary, are Sunday on the indoor red-clay court in Porsche Arena.
The Americans were expected to have Venus Williams in their corner if not on the court. She is sidelined with a hip injury, but was expected to be in Germany to be eligible for the 2012 London Games. Players are to make themselves available for the Fed Cup to play in the Olympics.
Williams was sidelined during the third round of the Australian Open. Serena Williams hasn't played since Wimbledon because of two operations on her foot and a blood clot in her lungs.
The winner of the best-of-five series will remain in the top-tier World Group. The U.S. has won the competition a record 17 times but could drop down for the first time.
''It is great that we have a very versatile team,'' U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. ''Both Melanie and Christina have been playing on the clay and doing well.''
In Fed Cup semifinals this weekend, Belgium, without injured Kim Clijsters, will host the Czech Republic, and Russia is home against two-time defending champion Italy, which will not have Francesca Schiavone. The winners meet in the final Nov. 5-6.
For the U.S., Vania King and Liezel Huber were selected to play doubles, although Fernandez can change the lineup. Sabine Lisicki and Anna-Lena Groenefeld will go for Germany. Doubles is played only if the series is 2-2.
The 19-year-old Oudin, of Marietta, Ga., recently beat Goerges in Miami.
''I feel like we have been practicing really well and we are ready for tough matches this weekend,'' Oudin said. ''Whenever you lose to someone, if you play them again a few weeks later, you want to get revenge on them. She is going to bring some good tennis, so I have to be ready.''
McHale will face Petkovic, who is enjoying her best season and cracked the top 20 after reaching the semifinals in Miami.
''I think each day all of us are getting more used to the surface and conditions,'' McHale said. ''We will just give it our all and see how it goes.''
Belgium will have to make due at home without Clijsters, who will miss up to six weeks after hurting her ankle when she stepped on someone's foot at a wedding last week. The Belgians will open with Kirsten Flipkens against Petra Kvitova in Charleroi. Yanina Wickmayer will face Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in second singles.
Russia's Vera Zvonareva will play Sara Errani in opening singles in Moscow, followed by Svetlana Kuznetsova against Roberta Vinci.
Schiavone, the French Open champion, is not playing for Italy to concentrate on the clay-court season. Flavia Pennetta is sidelined with a shoulder injury.
In another Fed Cup playoff, Slovakia will host Serbia. Bojana Jovanovski will replace No. 8 Jelena Jankovic, who is not injured. Daniela Hantuchova will play Ana Ivanovic.