WASHINGTON, November 7, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The United States and the Czech Republic are the two most successful teams in the history of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas. So, it seems only fitting that these two dominant powerhouses of women’s tennis should meet this weekend in Prague to decide the 2018 World Group final.
The defending champion Americans, who have captured 18 Fed Cup championships – most in Fed Cup history – are looking to add to their impressive collection of winner’s trophies. However, they will be the underdogs against the host Czech Republic, which has won 10 Fed Cup championships – including five of the last seven Fed Cup titles – and will host this year’s final at the O2 Arena. That’s because the United States will be unveiling an entirely new lineup against the Czechs, which includes three first-time Fed Cup participants – No. 36 Danielle Collins, No. 52 Sofia Kenin and doubles No. 15 Nicole Melichar – plus No. 63 Alison Riske, who was part of last year’s U.S. championship team.
“We’re going to go out there one match at a time and really compete,” said United States captain Kathy Rinaldi. “You never underestimate any team. We’re honored and humbled to be here. For me as captain to be in a second final is absolutely incredible, and I love my team. We’re looking forward to a great competition.”
The second-ranked United States advanced to the final with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over France last April in Aix-en-Provence on red clay by winning three of four singles rubbers. The Americans had a veteran presence during the semifinal round anchored by Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. However, none of them will be competing in Prague this weekend. Neither will the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus.
Melichar defended the U.S. team that Rinaldi has assembled for this weekend’s final. “I’ll say it this way,” said Melichar. “In sports, on an given Sunday, anything can happen. All of these girls play unbelievably well, and our opponents play unbelievably well. It can go either way. It’s going to be a coin toss. I think we just go out and give it our best. Are we the favorites on paper? No, but I think we can do it and our captain believes in us.”
Looking back, Collins said, “if somebody told me that I was going to get to play in the Fed Cup Final this time last year, I would have been so ecstatic. What a way to end the year, representing your country. Just really glad I put myself in this situation.”
Meanwhile, the top-ranked Czech Republic moved into the final for the sixth time in the last eight years with an impressive 4-1 win over Germany in Stuttgart. They are anchored by No. 7 Petra Kvitova, who has amassed 30 career Fed Cup singles victories; doubles No. 1 Katerina Siniakova (who is also No. 31 in singles), and doubles No. 5 Barbora Strycova, who will be competing in her 20th Fed Cup tie. No. 8 Karolina Pliskova, who was the fourth player named last week to the Czech team, will miss the final due to an calf injury she sustained during the recent WTA Finals in Singapore. A replacement has not been confirmed.
“We have a strong team, which I’m very pleased of,” said Czech Republic captain Petr Pala. “I think we should put us as the favorite, just looking at the rankings. We have Petra and the No. 1 in doubles, so we’re not going to hide it that we’re favorites. But just a little bit, and it’s just only on paper, so you have to win it on the court.”
Fed Cup notes
• The United States is 10-2 all-time against the Czech Republic in Fed Cup competition. They’ve met twice in the finals – the Czechs won in 1985 and the U.S. won in 1986. The U.S. has won the last seven meetings between the two countries. They last met in the 2017 semifinals, on red clay in Tampa, Florida, which the U.S. won en route to winning its first Fed Cup title since 2000.
• With Karolina Pliskova (13-4 in Fed Cup singles) out with a calf injury, the Czech Republic has until one hour before the draw on Friday to name a replacement for her on its four-person roster. Doubles No. 1 Barbora Krejcikova is thought to be the leading contender to replace Pliskova in order to bolster the team’s doubles lineup. The Czechs have never lost a tie with Pliskova in the starting lineup. On Saturday, Pliskova tweeted that she felt the team was still strong enough to win a sixth title in eight years without her.
“Obviously, you come here and you want to play the best,” said United States captain Rinaldi. “It’s a tough, long year, and it’s a shame that (Karolina) can’t play here in her home country. But I’m sure whoever is taking the post is going to be very tough and very good.“
• Petra Kvitova has a chance to complete a perfect year in Fed Cup singles rubbers for the second time in her career if she wins both of her singles rubbers against the United States this weekend. She first achieved the feat in 2011. The last player to achieve the maximum number of Fed Cup singles rubbers in a year on multiple occasions was Conchita Martinez of Spain in 1993 and 1995.
• The 2018 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final will be played at the O2 Arena in Prague, which has a seating capacity of 10,700. The Czech Tennis Association is expecting sell-out crowds for both days of this year’s final as the Czech Republic goes after its 11th Fed Cup title. The O2 Arena is a familiar site for the Czech Republic having played host to their Fed Cup title triumphs in 2012, 2014 and 2015, as well as a first-round World Group tie against Switzerland this year.
“What’s special is that we’ve never lost here in this arena,” said Czech Republic captain Peter Pala. “I’m really glad to be back here, and we’re looking forward.”
• Play on Saturday begins at 2 p.m local time (1 p.m. GMT) with two singles rubbers and continues on Sunday at noon local time (11 a.m. GMT) with the reverse singles and doubles rubber.