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US Fed Cup Team Prevails 3-2 Over Argentina in Surprise

February 12, 2009 12:30 AM

Federation Cup
Argentina vs. USA
Feb. 7-8, 2009
Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex - Surprise, Ariz.

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By Erin Bruehl

Team USA Fed Cup player Julie Ditty (facing) and Liezel Huber celebrate after their tie-clinching doubles victory.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Right before she took the court for the deciding doubles rubber, Liezel Huber received a message of encouragement from her friend Lindsay Davenport.

The message said, “Go for it, play the big points."

Huber did just that, and she could hardly have imagined a better ending.

Playing in her second Fed Cup tie for the U.S. and her first at home, Huber teamed with Julie Ditty to clinch the 2009 Fed Cup Quarterfinal tie between the U.S. and Argentina for the home team. They defeated Gisela Dulko and Betina Jozami 6-2, 6-3 to give the U.S. the 3-2 victory over Argentina in Mary Joe Fernandez’s first tie as U.S. Fed Cup Captain.

It was Melanie Oudin who pushed the tie to the doubles rubber, with a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jozami in the fourth singles rubber after Gisela Dulko defeated Jill Craybas 6-1, 6-3 in the third singles match.

The U.S. now advances to the 2009 World Group Semifinals, where it will face the Czech Republic.

Huber, the co-world No. 1 doubles player, became an American citizen in 2007 and played her first Fed Cup tie for the U.S. last year in Moscow. She could not be more honored to be representing her country and play a key part in the team’s victory.

“I can’t believe we won. I’m so proud of this team,” Huber said. “It was a team effort. Everybody got to play and everybody gave their all. It’s a proud day in my history book.”

“I watched a Fed Cup tie, I think the U.S. lost to Russia in the clincher. I wasn’t an American then, but I thought it would be awesome playing in that situation,” Huber recalled of a previous tie. “I saw balls going in the middle and people didn’t want to take it. I was kind of replaying it in my mind while sitting in the lounge when Melanie (Oudin) was playing. I was thinking, ‘When I have this opportunity, I’m not going to let this happen.'”

Ditty was a late replacement on the U.S. roster for the injured Bethanie Mattek, who still came to the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex to support the team in the stands as a fan. And it was Ditty who put the U.S. in the semifinals with the match point.

Argentine No. 1 Gisela Dulko won both her singles matches, but it wasn't enough for Argentina.

“Once I got the call from Mary Joe, I was ready,” Ditty, the career titles leader on the USTA Pro Circuit, said. “I came here and trained really hard for three or four days and really felt confident in my game going into today. I just did what Liezel told me to do on the court, and I think we worked well together.”

After taking the first set against Dulko and Jozami, who were both late substitutes in the doubles rubber, the second set progressed on serve. In the fourth game of the second set, on Jozami’s serve, the U.S. held four break points, but the Argentine team saved them all to keep the set on serve.

Up 4-3, Jozami then took the ball to serve again. After falling behind 40-15, Huber and Ditty pushed the game to deuce. It went to deuce two more times before the U.S. had its second break point opportunity of the game when Huber hit a winner down the left line. Huber then smacked an overhand volley winner to the right for the break and a 5-3 advantage.

Huber then took the ball to serve, and up 40-30, Ditty hit a volley winner to the right to close out the match and the tie as the U.S. team stormed the court in celebration. Huber then took the American flag and led the team around the court in a victory lap.

In the fourth singles rubber, Oudin fought hard and came up huge for the U.S. as she rallied from a set down to defeat Jozami and keep the U.S. alive in her first career Fed Cup victory that also had a short rain delay.

Despite losing the first set, Oudin came out strong to start the second, taking a commanding 4-0 lead. The 17-year-old was even more aggressive than in the first set as she dictated control of points and made fewer errors.

“I think I started off a little nervous in the beginning again,” Oudin said. “In the second I came out a lot stronger. I was going for my shots more and I was just trying to stay patient, waiting for the right ball and making her play a lot more balls. It started getting a lot closer and I believed I could beat her.”

These young sisters came out to support the United States Fed Cup team.

In the third set, Jozami, 20, held to open the set and then broke Oudin in the next game, when the American double faulted, to take a 2-0 lead. But Oudin was not behind for long.

She immediately broke back, keeping Jozami on the run, and closed out the game when the Argentine hit a ball into the net. After holding, Oudin then held the advantage and a break point in the fifth game when Jozami sent a shot wide.

On the next point, Jozami sliced a drop shot – a key tactic of hers – that Oudin sprinted to from the baseline. On the run, Oudin caught it and sent a passing shot by the Argentine as the crowd erupted to make it 3-2.

From there, Oudin could feel the match start to turn in her favor. Jozami did not win another service game, and the U.S. Fed Cup Team was still alive.

“When I got up 3-2, when I got that dropshot, I think that was the key turning point in (the match) because she had hit a lot of good shots and I started playing better after I got down 2-0,” Oudin said. “When I got that shot, I was really pumped up and I started getting the momentum.”

In the third singles, rubber Craybas and Dulko met for the fifth time in their careers. Craybas had gotten the better of Dulko lately, winning their last three matches. But such was not the case on Sunday as Dulko played aggressively with more winners and fewer errors to win.

 As a whole, Dulko’s serving was more effective throughout the match and although she converted just 45 percent of her first serves, she won 78 percent of the points on her second serve and was never broken.

“I think I just was very aggressive today. If you play long points with (Craybas) she is always there,” Dulko said. “She brings back a lot of balls. So I think the key today maybe was my serve, moving my forehand, trying to dominate the point. That’s the kind of game I like to play and that I am practicing more.”

USTA Southwest helped pick the Flag Kids (shown here) for the opening ceremonies.

Dulko played the more consistent all-around game as Craybas was not her usual self, struggling with her serving at times, uncharacteristically missing a lot of shots and not hitting the ball as well as she did against Betina Jozami on Saturday.

“She (Dulko) played what I expected her to play like,” Craybas said. “She was pretty solid, played well, ran around and hit more forehands. I just made a lot of errors. I feel like I didn’t really make the points as long as I would have liked to.”

USTA Southwest Flag kids show off their red and blue spray painted hair at the Section's booth.

Looking back on the entire tie, Fernandez could not be prouder of the entire team and was thrilled everyone had an opportunity to contribute to the victory on the court. She felt good when the tie moved to the doubles rubber with the world No. 1 doubles player on the court.

“We knew each match was going to be tough. We were wanting to win one of those first couple matches to get into the doubles,” Fernandez said. “Dulko I have to say played terrific both days. It was up to Melanie in the second match to really fight and find a way to win, which is what she did… I’m really proud of her.”

“When Liezel is on the court, I feel confident every single time, and Julie Ditty came through. At the end we had a lot of options (for doubles),” she added. “But Julie practiced really well during the week and was so aggressive. She listened to Liezel out there and really made it happen. The doubles was beautiful. I had the best team I could have had and for my first experience, I’m so happy.”