WASHINGTON, November 10, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
With World No. 7 Petra Kvitova sidelined by illness and Karolina Pliskova ruled out because of a knee injury, all eyes in Prague’s O2 Arena Saturday will be on Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Strycova, who will anchor the Czech Republic’s first-day singles lineup in their 2018 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas final against defending champion United States.
In the opening rubber, Strycova, playing in her 20th and final Fed Cup tie, will face Sofia Kenin, 19, who is playing in her first one. It will be followed by Siniakova against Alison Riske.
Kvitova, who has an unblemished 4-0 Fed Cup record in 2018, was scratched before Friday’s draw ceremony inside Prague’s Town Hall in favor of Strycova, ranked No. 33. Czech team captain Petr Pala decided not to risk playing Kvitova on Saturday. However, the Czech star hopes to be fit in time for Sunday’s reverse singles.
“We decided on Thursday,” said Kvitova. “After my practice, I lay down in bed and stayed there. I had a bit of a fever as well. Last week I had antibiotics, but I’m still not ready.
“Of course, I’m sad, it’s a bit disappointing. I’ve been staying in the Czech Republic for two weeks to be ready for the final of the Fed Cup. Hopefully, everything will be fine for Sunday.”
Until Kvitova returns, Siniakova, ranked No. 31, assumes No. 1 singles duty for the Czech Republic. She’s 2-1 head-to-head against Riske, ranked No. 63. Both veteran players are playing in their fourth Fed Cup ties.
“I might say we’re slightly favorites,” said Pala, “but I don’t know. With Karolina originally in the line-up, and now Petra not able to play on the first day, it changes the game a little bit. But I’m very confident about Barbora and Katerina. They’ve practiced well and they’re great players. It will be interesting, close. A very tough tie.”
United States captain Kathy Rinaldi, who is undefeated in five ties since assuming her position in December 2016, is looking to lead the Americans to back-to-back Fed Cup titles for the first time since 2000. Last year, the United States beat Belarus 3-2 in Minsk for the title. If she’s successful, it would be the first time a country has won consecutive titles away from home since the current Fed Cup format was implemented in 1995.
“We’re well prepared and we’ve done our homework,” said Rinaldi on Friday. “Now, it’s just a matter of executing the game-plan and doing the best that we can.”
Certainly, it’s a new look United States team assembled in Prague compared to the semifinal-round lineup that advanced the Americans into the final. Last April, against France, the United States team was anchored by Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, both ranked in the Top 20 in the world, plus CoCo Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. None of them are in Prague.
“For the youngsters and the rookies, they’re super excited,” said Rinaldi. “They know what an honor it is; they’re very appreciative of the opportunity, and they’re all feisty competitors. They’re going to give it their all; they’re going to lay it out there, and leave their heart and soul on that court.
“We know that the Czech Republic has a long list of great players to choose from, so we’re ready to compete.”
As for Kvitova, who will be sitting on the sidelines – at least for Saturday – she said, “I’m going to be in the arena to support, for sure. If anything is needed of me, I’m going to help for sure, but I just can’t play. It will be very exciting.”
Fed Cup notes
• Much has been written about the Czech Republic’s recent Fed Cup dominance as well the past success the United States has enjoyed against the Czechs. The Czech Republic has won 10 of 11 finals they’ve contested with their only loss coming against the Americans in 1986. They are biding for their six title in eight years. Meanwhile, the United States, which has lifted 18 Fed Cup final trophies, holds a 10-2 win-loss record against the hosts and have not lost to the Czechs since 1985.
“I don’t think we have losing streaks against many nations,” said Pala in comments made following the draw ceremony. “The U.S. is such a big nation with so many players, and I’m really proud that our small country can keep up with them. Since I’ve been captain, we’ve never beaten the USA, so I think it would be the best time to do it – at home, in the final.”
• Barbora Strycova has figured prominently in of the Czech Republic’s most recent Fed Cup titles. She helped clinch victories in 2015 over Russia and in 2016 against France, both in fifth rubber doubles matches, both with Karolina Pliskova.
• Alison Riske, 28, is the only American with previous Fed Cup experience. Her teammates, Sofia Kenin (ranked No. 52), Danielle Collins (No. 36) and Nicole Melichar (doubles No. 15), are all making their Fed Cup debuts this weekend.
Riske was asked about the court conditions inside the O2 Arena, in which the rubbers will be played on a hard, Novacrylic Ultracushion surface. She said, “I really do like the court a lot. Any time I’m indoors on a fast court I feel pretty at home. I grew up on these courts playing in Pittsburgh. I’m really looking forward to it – we’ve had a great week of practice – and I think the pressure’s on them.”
Meanwhile, Kenin so far has labeled her time in Prague representing her country as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” She said, “It’s been amazing. I’m having a great week with the girls. I’m really looking forward to the experience.”
• Saturday’s schedule:
Play begins at 2 p.m. local time (1 p.m. GMT; 8 a.m. ET)
Rubber 1 – Barbora Strycova vs. Sofia Kenin
Rubber 2 – Katerina Siniakova vs. Alison Riske
• Sunday’s schedule:
Play begins at noon local time (11 a.m. GMT; 6 a.m. ET)
Rubber 3 – Katerina Siniakova vs. Sofia Kenin
Rubber 4 – Barbora Strycova vs. Alison Riske
Rubber 5 – Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova vs. Danielle Collins/Nicole Melichar
Note, a revised Sunday schedule may take place if a team clinches in the third or fourth rubber.