Friday, February 4, 2011

Groth Spurt?

Jarmila Groth will take on Francesca Schiavone in her first Fed Cup match for Australia on Saturday. Can she be the difference for the Aussies?
Jarmila Groth fell in love with Australia on her first trip to the continent as a 14-year-old. These days, she's giving Australians as many opportunities to fall in love with her. Groth was granted Australian citizenship in Nov of 2009, and since then the 23-year-old has engineered a rise from just outside the top-100 in the WTA rankings all the way to her current career-high of No. 31.

She's matured quite a bit over the past year, and the overwhelming consensus is that the Bratislava, Slovakia native has earned the chance to join the Australian Fed Cup team in their quest to upset the formidable Italian squad in Hobart this weekend.

"Jarka's got a very exciting game," Aussie captain David Taylor said. "Anyone who's watched her play [will say] she's exciting to watch. She can hit winners from both forehand, backhand, and she can serve huge," adds Taylor.

Groth has had her two best Slam appearances (4th round French Open and Wimbledon in '10) as an Australian, and now the Fed Cup singles rookie will get the chance to help her new friends and teammates try to knock off the two-time defending Fed Cup champion Italians.

Groth, who snatched her second WTA title just weeks ago in Hobart, has an electric game. A plethora of articles were written about her ambidextrous leanings last summer when she wowed at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but there is considerably more to her game than smoke and mirrors. She also possesses an easy power on her serve and backhand that can leave even her fleetest opponents flat-footed.

To say that the 23-year-old can do more than hit a ball with both arms would be like saying Roger Federer can do more than hit tweeners. She may have garnered some press with her left-handed overheads, but there's clearly more substance than style in her game. Groth has the explosive strokes that make scouts drool and coaches line up for a chance to refine her skills. She's a raw talent, but an undeniably dangerous one, and the hope is that she's only at the cusp of her potential.

But Groth's greatest successes in professional tennis have come largely on the ITF circuit, where she has 12 titles to her name. It still remains to be seen if she can find away to turn all the immense talent at her disposal into big wins over big opponents.

On Saturday, she'll get the chance, as one of the fiercest women in the game — Francesca Schiavone a.k.a. 'La Lionessa' — will look to punish her early and often for her lack of Fed Cup experience.

It'll be a big challenge, exceptional talent or no exceptional talent. Groth is 1-4 against the WTA's top-20 since 2010, and both of her Italian singles opponents (Schiavone, No. 4 and Pennetta, No. 16) are currently inside the top-20.

The Australian team, which hasn't won a Fed Cup title since 1974, knows that their chances hinge heavily on whether or not Groth can overachieve in Hobart.

"It's a really evenly matched tie, and if she puts in a good performance and gets a win, it's going to be critical," Australian Captain David Taylor said.

Sam Stosur, who holds a career record of 5-2 against Schiavone, is ready and willing to give Groth advice on the matter. "Anything we can do to help each other get through, we'll do," she said.

It'll certainly be a tall order, given the way the Italians have performed at Fed Cup of late, but Groth is happy to be representing Australia and happy to be in Hobart, where the memories of her most recent WTA title are fresh.

"I'm very lucky to be a part of this team," Groth said. "I'm trying to show that even though I wasn't born here, I'm part of Australia now, and I will do my best to represent my country as well as I can."

Visit the Fed Cup homepage for more schedules and features.

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