WASHINGTON, April 21, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
United States Fed Cup team captain Kathy Rinaldi had a tough decision to make on Friday when it was time to announce her team’s nominations for its World Group semifinal tie against France. With three Top 20 players vying for two singles spots in Team USA’s lineup, the biggest mystery of the day was whom Rinaldi would choose to play singles. It is the kind of dilemma all team captains would love to have.
As it happened, during the draw ceremony held at Arena Du Pays D’Aix in Aix-en-Provence, France, site of this weekend’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas tie, Rinaldi decided to go with World No. 9 Sloane Stephens and No. 16 CoCo Vandeweghe in singles and placed No. 13 Madison Keys in the Americans’ doubles lineup with former World No. 1 Bethanie Mattek-Sands, whose doubles ranking following recovery from a severe knee injury suffered last summer is still a very respectable No. 32.
Meanwhile, France’s team captain Yannick Noah will counter with just a three-player team that will be pushed hard by the Americans. The French will rely heavily upon No. 20 Kristina Mladenovic in both singles and doubles, along with No. 122 Pauline Parmentier in singles and No. 345 Amandine Hesse in doubles.
The No. 1 question for Rinaldi after revealing her lineup was: What went into the decision to play Stephens and Vandeweghe in singles and bypass Keys? “Obviously, it’s a very tough decision when you have three Top 20 players,” said Rinaldi, whose U.S. team is the defending Fed Cup champions. “Sloane is coming off the big win in Miami (the Miami Open, a WTA Premier Mandatory event) and Top 10, and then between Madison and CoCo, it’s great to have two great players. With CoCo’s streak still going (she’s won 13 consecutive Fed Cup singles rubbers), I think we wanted to give her a chance to keep the streak going. She’s done great. She was the MVP of the Fed Cup last year, so we’re going to see if we can continue that run.”
Despite a lack of depth to match the Americans – the French will be playing without two of their best players in World No. 7 Caroline Garcia and No. 35 Alizé Cornet – Noah is upbeat and looking forward to this weekend’s tie. After all, France is hosting and will have a home crowd advantage, and the French are playing on clay, their favorite surface. “We have had good preparation,” said Noah, “and playing indoor on clay is totally different from what they have done in the last few months. It takes some time and I’m really happy with the way the girls responded.
“We miss Alizé because she has been with us the last three years. I’ve never been with Caroline, so it doesn’t really matter. We have a good spirit within the team. We are in the semifinals, and it’s a privilege to play the United States. So, we are going to enjoy it.”
U.S.-France Order of play:
Saturday, 2 p.m. local (noon GMT, 8 a.m. ET)
Singles A: Sloane Stephens, USA, vs. Pauline Parmentier, France.
Singles B: CoCo Vandeweghe, USA, vs. Kristina Mladenovic, France.
Sunday, 1 p.m. local (11 a.m. GMT, 7 a.m. ET)
Singles C: Sloane Stephens, USA, vs. Kristina Mladenovic, France.
Singles D: CoCo Vandeweghe, USA, vs. Pauline Parmentier, France.
Doubles: Madison Keys-Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA, vs. Kristina Mladenovic-Amandine Hesse, France.
What they are saying:
• Sloane Stephens, on the difference between playing Fed Cup versus a WTA Tour event: “Fed Cup is completely different than playing a regular tournament because you are playing for your country.”
• CoCo Vandeweghe, on being named to the U.S. singles lineup: “I’m just happy to be back and playing in the Fed Cup format. It’s great to be part of this team and be around these girls even though it’s only a few times during the year, but it’s really fun.”
• Yannick Noah, on what Kristina Mladenovic needs to do to be successful against CoCo Vandeweghe: “It’s all going to be about how you adapt to the clay. The clay this week is very slow, so obviously they both like short rallies. It’s going to come down to the one who moves better and is more patient.”