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Monday, February 4, 2008
Fed Cup MVP

Nobody is going to mistake the Czech Republic city of Brno for Glendale, Ariz., or confuse Nicole Vaidisova with Eli Manning. But let's try to remember, fellow Americans, that this was not just Super Bowl weekend. It was Fed Cup weekend as well and -- you can believe this or not -- the passion for the "big game" between the Czech Republic and Slovakia was as intense in some quarters as the relish with which some awaited another Boston-New York clash.

This Fed Cup tie was a battle between two nations that just a few decades ago were one (Czechoslovakia). The rosters for the teams were an alphabet soup of similar names in search of a vowel: Cetkovska, Rybarkiova, Peschke, Cibulkova. … They could have tossed all the names in a hat and drawn matches at random and nobody would have been any the wiser. As far national competitions go, this was a classic, or perhaps just classically bizarre, match-up. Someone had to emerge from this fog of confusion a hero, and it was Vaidisova, a girl who basically lives in Florida.

Nobody, with the possible exception of Michael Strahan and his fellow Giants, was more puffed up by the end of last night than Vaidisova. She was the only woman during the Fed Cup weekend to play the maximum three rubbers for her nation, which is the tennis version of playing every down on offense and defense in a football game.

Granted, Vaidisova is No. 15 in the world, and her first opponent, Magdelana Rybarikova, is ranked almost two hundred spots below, at no. 207. Still, the Czech squad was already a match down and the pressure was on leggy Vaidisova -- a girl who can spray errors with the best of them.

Vaidisova delivered the win over Rybarikova, but with the tie at 1-1 on Sunday, she gave up the first set to Dominika Cibulkova (No. 48) bringing the Czechs to the edge of the precipice. She bounced back to win in three sets, setting up her teammate Petra Cetkovska (No. 107) to clinch the tie -- a task at which Petra promptly failed. So once again, the Czechs had to turn to the girl from Florida, in hopes of sorting things out.

In a bold move, the Czechs inserted Vaidisova in the fifth and decisive rubber, delegating her to replace Iveta Benesova in the doubles (this, despite the fact that Benesova and Kveta Peschke are a battle-tested double squad). The gamble paid off -- barely. The tie went to the last possible set before the Czechs pulled it out, 6-4 in the third.

It wasn't exactly Manning to Burress, but on the Super Bowl weekend, Vaidisova was an MVP in her own right -- and the toast of Brno, if not Glendale.