On the surface, it seemed Sunday’s Fed Cup doubles rubber against Russia was potentially a good place for Sara Errani to turn around her recent serving woes.
The Italian has struggled mightily with her service toss since returning from serving the last part of her doping suspension.
In Bogotá, Colombia a couple of weeks ago, it got to the point where Errani was serving underhand. Even on the first serve.
She still went from the qualifying to the quarterfinals in that event. That was a feat nothing short of impressive from her side, although it also was a statement on the inability of four separate opponents to deal with it.
But on Sunday in Moscow, it was doubles. And Russia had already clinched the tie, so the match didn’t have a lot riding on it. Errani had partner Jasmine Paolini for moral support. And she also had Italian captain Tathiana Garbin, a former top-25 player in both singles and doubles, to help.
And she only had to serve half the time.
But it didn’t help. Not a bit. Not even the smiley-face vibration dampener made a difference.
Still, Errani and Paolini had every chance to win. They were beaten by an inexperienced young pair 4-6, 6-3, (10-7 in the match tiebreak). But only barely.
Anastasia Potapova was playing in her third Fed Cup tie. Partner Vlada Koval, 17, was making her first-ever appearance.
No underhand serving
On the plus side, Errani got through the match without having to serve underhand. Her opponents, whether to their credit out of sympathy or because captain Igor Andreev didn’t tell them to make the adjustments, never moved off the baseline to even put pressure on the return.
But Errani had her own pressure.
A few of the double faults, the result of bending way back behind her to hit an errant toss, landed wide of the middle service line. But most of them landed long. Way long. One point featured a first serve that landed a few feet in front of the baseline – and a second serve that hit just past the baseline.
Ironically enough, Errani’s serving woes were just one issue that led to her inability to hold serve. Partner Paolini butchered enough sitter volleys to help the cause along.
In Paolini’s defence, she undoubtedly put a ton of pressure on herself when she did get an opportunity to help her partner out.
As well, for whatever reason, Garbin didn’t tell them to have Paolini just stay back at the baseline with Errani and grind the point out from there.
No tactical adjustments made
It wasn’t as though the young Russians were going to take over the net. The only one on this court, on this day, who actually knew what she was doing in doubles was … Errani.
Or, at the very least, Paolini could have retreated behind the service line to at least have a shot at defending. Too many times the Russians crushed the serve returns right at her. As close as she was, she had no chance.
But that didn’t happen. And it’s a shame, because a win, as meaningless as it was in the grand scheme of the Fed Cup tie, would have done wonders for Errani.
The Italians were already down 0-3 after the first three singles matches.
Had Errani not been suffering these yips, she might well have been able to do something about that.
But there was no way Garbin could put her in there for singles.
Instead, Martina Trevisan (No. 146) played No. 1, and Paolini (No. 178) played No. 2.
Camila Giorgi was on the bench – no doubt looking for Olympic qualification by her presence. But she never got on court.
Italy, which has won the Fed Cup multiple times and hasn’t been down at the zonal level since 1997, finds itself relegated there for 2020.
Where next for Errani?
As for Errani, whose ranking sits at No. 207, she would have been able to play the qualifying at both Stuttgart and Istanbul this week, had she not sacrificed that to play for her country.
She would need a fair few withdrawals to play in the Rabat, Morocco qualifying next week. And she would need a wild card for the Rome qualifying.
Meanwhile, if the former world No. 5 wants to get herself back on track at the ITF level, she will have a surprisingly tough time finding place to play without getting wild cards.
(This, as we’ve chronicled, is a recurring theme under the new ITF Tour structure).
Errani had entered a $60K clay event in Weisbaden, Germany the week of Madrid. But she pulled out from that.
Despite being in with a ranking of No. 207, she is the … 25th alternate, into the qualifying, at the $80,000 tournament in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. (The event had offered $100,000 in prize money, but in March, that was cut by 20 per cent).
As it is, Errani could barely squeeze into a $25,000 tournament in Rome that same week if she wanted to play it. That’s how insane it is right now. The cutoff for the main draw for this event, at the second-lowest prize money level in women’s professional tennis, is No. 161. And the cutoff for the 32-player qualifying list is No. 216.
Every player entered in the qualifying of that $25,000 event would also be eligible for the French Open qualifying, on the basis of their ranking. The first half-dozen or so WTA alternates would, too. It’s that nuts.
(Screenshots from the Fed Cup live-streaming service)