WASHINGTON, February 8, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
United States Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi was asked recently if Serena Williams was ready to come back. After all, Williams has not played an official match since winning the 2017 Australian Open for her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. Although she played and lost to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Dec. 30 in Abu Dhabi, it was just an exhibition.
“I think so,” said Rinaldi, interviewed by Tennis Channel during the Australian Open. “In speaking with Serena – and she’s the ultimate professional – she has a lot of pride.
“She’s not going to play if she doesn’t want to win. She’s ready to win.”
Memo to the rest of the 2018 Fed Cup World Group: Watch out! The United States is the defending champion – they won their 18th Fed Cup title last November beating Belarus 3-2 in the final at Minsk – and returns with a very strong quartet of players, which includes: former world No. 1 Serena Williams, her older sister and No. 8 Venus Williams, No. 18 No. CoCo Vandeweghe, and No. 64 Lauren Davis. And, if Serena’s ready to win … pity the poor Dutch.
The United States will face the Netherlands in a first-round tie this weekend, Feb. 10-11, on an indoor hard court surface at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, which will favor the Americans. Rinaldi revealed her team on live TV in Melbourne – something that had never been done before.
#TeamUSATennis @FedCup R1: From the Vanderbilt created @BiltmoreEstate to #NetGeneration x @BuncombeSchools to non-stop action at the @USCellularCTR w/ @serenawilliams, @Venuseswilliams, @CoCoVandey & @LaurenDavis93, Asheville, NC has been lit. Read more: https://t.co/tyZYrywJWi pic.twitter.com/TmgvEV7bOc
— USTA (@usta) 8. Februar 2018
Meanwhile, Netherlands Fed Cup captain Paul Haarhuis announced that world No. 108 Richel Hogenkamp, No. 124 Arantxa Rus, No. 165 Lesley Kerkhove and doubles specialist Demi Schuurs, ranked No. 32 in doubles, will compete for the Dutch against the Americans. Missing in action is No. 28 Kiki Bertens.
The winner of the best-of-5 tie will advance to the Fed Cup semifinals, April 21-22.
Haarhuis admits his team will definitely be the underdog against the Americans this weekend. “I look at a list of the players they’re bringing and they could have left five at home and could still be picking five news ones and they’d all be in the Top 50,” he said. “It’s a luxury we don’t have and that makes it a difficult task for us.”
After skipping the Australian Open, Serena Williams has pushed back her 2018 debut after revealing in a February Vogue cover story of her complications following her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter last September. “She’s very professional and she has a lot of pride for playing for her country,” said Rinaldi. “She’ll be ready to go.”
Whether Serena Williams will play singles or doubles – or both – remains to be decided by Rinaldi. However, there’s no doubting she’s arguably the best female player on the planet when she’s healthy.
“If you look at Serena,” said Haarhuis, “how often does she lose to someone that’s not ranked in the Top 10 or Top 20 or outside the Top 100? The odds are not good, but we do believe that it’s possible.”
Meanwhile, Vandeweghe won all eight of her Fed Cup matches last year in leading the U.S. to the 2017 championship. “She loves playing for her country,” said Rinaldi. “And we have Venus who is absolutely one of the greatest players of all time.” Venus Williams is a seven-time major champion. It’s been three years since the Williams sisters have played on the same Fed Cup team.
Rinaldi said during a press conference on Wednesday that her team is excited to be in Asheville. “They’ve never been to Asheville, so it’s always fun to play in a new place and a new arena, and of course every player dreams of playing in front of a sold-out crowd, especially a home tie,” she said. “To have that support, everyone showing their colors of red, white and blue, it’s going to be amazing.”
• The United States-Netherlands tie begins on Saturday, Feb. 10, at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (GMT minus 5 hours) with two singles matches. On Sunday, Feb. 11, play continues at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (GMT minus 5 hours) with two reverse singles matches and the doubles match. (A revised schedule for Sunday may occur if one team clinches in the third or fourth match.)
• Serena Williams is 13-0 lifetime in Fed Cup singles competition while Venus Williams is 19-2. It will be Serena’s first Fed Cup appearance since 2015 and the first for Venus since 2016.
• The United States leads the head-to-head against the Netherlands 6-2, but this is the first meeting between the two nations since 1998, when the Americans won 5-0 in the first round of World Group play on clay at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
• The United States has the oldest Fed Cup squad with an average age over 31, while Russia’s team is the youngest, with an average age below 20. Venus Williams is the oldest player nominated to play at age 37 while Ukraine’s Dasha Lopateetskaya is youngest at age 14.
• According to WLOS in Asheville, the economic impact of the United States-Netherlands Fed Cup tie on the city of Asheville, N.C., is expected to be about $3.5 million.
• Other first-round World Group ties (all to be played Feb. 10-11) include: Belarus vs. Germany at Minsk; Czech Republic vs. Switzerland at Prague; and France vs. Belgium at La Roch-sur-Yon.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.