U.S. on verge of Fed Cup relegation
Without the Williams sisters and playing two teenagers, the United States is on the verge of being relegated from the World Group for the first time after losing both singles matches to Germany in the Fed Cup playoffs on Saturday.
Andrea Petkovic defeated 18-year-old Christina McHale 6-3, 6-4 in the opening singles, and Julia Goerges edged 19-year-old Melanie Oudin 6-2, 7-6 (5) to lead Germany within a point of securing victory in the best-of-five tie.
''I am very proud of both of them, they did as much as possible,'' said U.S. team captain Mary Joe Fernandez. ''We'll try to be better tomorrow, it's been done before, coming back from 2-0 down.''
The reverse singes and the doubles are on Sunday.
The Americans, who have won the competition a record 17 times, have never been relegated. The United States was Fed Cup runner-up in the last two years, losing both times to Italy.
Venus Williams cheered on her teammates from the stands in the Porsche Arena. She is sidelined with a hip injury, but made the trip to Germany to be eligible for the 2012 London Games. Players are to make themselves available for the Fed Cup to play in the Olympics.
Serena Williams also is unavailable because of two foot operations and blood clots in her lungs.
The U.S. team was without Fed Cup regular Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is sidelined with a hip injury.
McHale started strongly, staying with Petkovic at 3-3. In the second set, the 19th-ranked Petkovic led 4-0 before McHale rallied to within a game. But the German served out the match.
McHale said the seventh game of the first set was the turning point.
''It changed the momentum a little bit, there was a stretch when I was in the match but could not win a game. I was happy I was able to compete better in the second,'' she said.
Petkovic saved three break points and won seven straight games to take command.
''I've seen her play in the United States, she has beaten some top 10 players so I knew what to expect,'' Petkovic said. ''She played really well until then, but she then lost her focus a little. That's inexperience, but she can play really well.''
McHale just reached a career-high No. 82 in the WTA rankings.
Against Oudin, Goerges rolled through the first set but had a harder time finishing it off in the second.
Oudin nearly came within a point of set point. A shot by Goerges was called long and would have given the American a 6-5 lead in the tiebreaker. But the chair umpire inspected the mark on the indoor red clay and overruled the call.
Goerges, who had lost to Oudin recently in Miami, won the last two points to close out the match.
''The match was so different from last time,'' Oudin said. ''She served incredible the entire match.
''When someone serves like that there is not much you can do and it puts pressure on your serve. I've never seen her serve that well.''
Germany coach Barbara Rittner said she was glad her team had the chance to wrap up the match in the singles.
''The U.S. always has very good and experienced doubles, and I'd love to have it decided in the singles,'' Rittner said. ''We had two pretty close matches, both Christina and Melanie gave us a good challenge. They are young but good players.''