WASHINGTON, April 23, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The two most successful – and dominant – teams in the history of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas competition, the Czech Republic and the United States, will decide this year’s championship. It seems only fitting.
The Czech Republic, which has won five of the past seven Fed Cup titles, will host defending champion United States on November 10-11, likely in Prague. The Americans have captured 18 championships – most in Fed Cup history – and are looking to add to their impressive trophy collection.
Over the weekend, the United States advanced to its second consecutive Fed Cup final with a 3-2 victory over France in Aix-en-Provence by winning three of four singles rubbers on the red clay at Arena du Pays D’Aix. World No. 9 Sloane Stephens, who went 2-0 against the French, was solid in her 6-2, 6-0 win over No. 20 Kristina Mladenovic on Sunday. It put the Americans ahead 2-1. Then, No. 13 Madison Keys substituted for No. 16 CoCo Vandeweghe and clinched the tie for Team USA with a 7-6 (4), 6-4 win over No. 122 Pauline Parmentier.
“I think all the credit goes to the players,” said U.S. team captain Kathy Rinaldi, who took over Team USA in 2017 and is undefeated in five Fed Cup ties. “They played some great tennis. We had some great matches and I think that really stands out.”
After her tie-clinching win, Keys said that she was “really happy to get the win. Obviously, Sloane playing some great matches and getting that final win is really, really special.”
Team USA has reached back-to-back Fed Cup finals for the first time since finishing runner-up in 2009-10 and last won consecutive Fed Cup titles in 1999-2000.
Meanwhile, the 10-time Fed Cup champion Czech Republic moved into the final round for the sixth time in the last eight years with an impressive 4-1 road victory over Germany in Stuttgart. “It was a very tough tie,” Czech Republic team captain Petr Pala said after his team’s triumph. “It was an outstanding performance from each of the (singles) winners. … The tennis was unbelievable.”
Pala’s team is solidly anchored by World No. 10 Petra Kvitova and No. 6 Karolina Pliskova at singles. Against Germany, Kvitova beat both No. 11 Julia Goerges and No. 12 Angelique Kerber without dropping a set for her 29th and 30th Fed Cup rubber wins. Pliskova is 13-4 in her Fed Cup singles career. The Czech Republic doubles team will be very formidable with Barbora Strycova and Katerina Siniakova paired together. Both are ranked in the Top 20 in the world.
“They’ve shown the last five years they are the best,” German team captain Jens Gerlach said of the Czech Republic team after Sunday’s tie.
Like the Czech Republic, Team USA has an abundance of talent to draw upon. “I’ve always said that’s the toughest part about being a captain is looking at the depth and looking at all of the players,” said Rinaldi. “Hopefully, everybody is available and we’re looking forward to it.” Whether the Williams sisters – No. 8 Venus and former No. 1 Serena – will be part of Team USA for the Fed Cup final remains to be decided. While either would be a welcome addition to an already elite lineup, the current quartet of players that beat France in the semifinals – Stephens, Keys, Vandeweghe and former No. 1 doubles player Bethanie Mattek-Sands – are all great competitors who want to win.
While there’s a lot of time between now and the November final to finalize her team, Rinaldi looks forward to the challenge of facing the Czech Republic. The U.S. owns a 10-2 career win-loss record against the Czech Republic in all Fed Cup meetings. “We know going into the final is going to be tough,” she said. “Czech Republic has tremendous depth as well. They have had a lot of success as well, so it should be very interesting.”
World Group playoffs wrap-up:
Belarus 3, Slovakia 2
• In their 100th Fed Cup tie, host Belarus punched its ticket back to the World Group as Vera Lapko and Lidziya Marozava beat Viktoria Kuzmova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-3, 6-4, in the decisive doubles rubber following a split of the four singles rubbers in Minsk. “These types of team matches are always so close,” said Belarus team captain Tatiana Poutchek. “Our last two matches have been decided on the doubles, so I think we are now used to these high pressure, difficult situations as a team.”
Romania 3, Switzerland 1
• “I love it, I’m happy to feel it, but it’s very tough,” Romania’s Simona Halep said of the pressure of anchoring her Fed Cup team at home in Cluj-Napoca. “You never have this during tournaments, just these two days, and it’s different. It’s something huge, and it’s really tough to control.” World No. 1 Halep won both of her singles rubbers, including the tie clincher Sunday over Swiss veteran Patty Schnyder, 6-2, 6-1, to earn Romania its return to the World Group for 2019.
Australia 4, Netherlands 1
• Daria Gavrilova‘s 6-3, 6-2 win over Quirine Lemoine in the fourth rubber clinched host Australia’s victory in Wollongong. Australian No. 1 Ash Barty contributed a pair of singles wins over the weekend to improve her Fed Cup lifetime win-loss record to 11-2. “It’s a work in progress to get back into the World Group, and I think now we’re in a perfect position to put ourselves in (with) a chance for a shot at the title next year,” said Barty of her team, which returns to the World Group next year.
Belgium 4, Italy 0
• World No. 17 Elise Mertens anchored the visiting Belgians back into the World Group with a pair of wins, including a 6-3, 6-1 tie-clincher over Sara Errani on Sunday at Genoa. She also teamed with Kirsten Flipkens to finish the tie with a doubles win. “I’m a little bit tired,” said Mertens. “I mean there are a lot of emotions but Im very happy that I’ve got the third point for Belgium. I just concentrate on my own thing, don’t be nervous. Just play. You can play a lot of aces and winning points on the serve.”
What they’re saying:
• Simona Halep, Romania: “It was always one of my dreams to play at the highest level of Fed Cup. If that is going to happen, I am the happiest person. Fed Cup is something different to my tournaments, but it’s the same (importance). I will focus 100 percent to play in Fed Cup, and also to win.”
• Madison Keys, United States: “I love playing Fed Cup. I was really sad that I couldn’t play last year because of my wrist, but as soon as Kathy (Rinaldi) asked if I wanted to be here, I said yes. So, just being able to represent my country is the thing I’m always really excited about.”
• Yannick Noah, France team captain: “I love my team and the whole family. I love Fed Cup, I love this format of playing for your country. It’s such an honor and so much passion.”
• Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic: “Fed Cup is a bit different. With this (loud) crowd, you have to stay calm. Today, the German fans were supporting (their players) louder than before, which from my point of view is great. It was a nice atmosphere on court. I stayed calm for every point.”