US count­ing on debu­tantes in Fed Cup ti­tle de­fence

Gulf Times Sport - - SPORT -

The United States will send out three debu­tantes to de­fend their Fed Cup crown against a pow­er­house Czech Repub­lic side that sud­denly looks vul­ner­a­ble af­ter be­ing hit with in­jury and ill­ness.

If the two most suc­cess­ful na­tions in Fed Cup his­tory, the United States, win­ners of 18 ti­tles, and the Czechs, cham­pi­ons in five of the last seven years, were to field their best, fans could look for­ward to a mar­quee fi­nal of the high­est or­der.

The US, how­ever, will be with­out Ser­ena and Venus Wil­liams, hold­ers of a com­bined 30 grand slam sin­gles ti­tles, world num­ber six Sloane Stephens and Madi­son Keys, semi-fi­nal­ist at both Roland Gar­ros and Flush­ing Mead­ows, in Prague.

The Czechs had an­nounced a power-packed lineup led by world num­ber seven and twice Wim­ble­don cham­pion Pe­tra Kvi­tova and eighth-ranked Karolina Pliskova for the Nov 10-11 tie, but could be with­out both.

Pliskova has al­ready been ruled out with a calf in­jury while Kvi­tova will at least miss the open­ing day’s ac­tion to­day due to sick­ness.

Kvi­tova, whose train­ing has been lim­ited this week due to a fever, could still play to­mor­row.

Kathy Ri­naldi, who took over as US cap­tain in 2017, has named world num­ber 36 Danielle Collins, 52nd ranked Sofia Kenin, num­ber 63 Ali­son Riske and Czech-born dou­bles spe­cial­ist Nicole Melichar to keep her un­beaten Fed Cup record in­tact.

Riske was a mem­ber of the US team that won the Fed Cup ti­tle over Be­larus last year, but this is a first Fed Cup nom­i­na­tion for Collins, Kenin and Melichar.

Petr Pala, the most suc­cess­ful cap­tain in Fed Cup his­tory hav­ing led the Czechs to five ti­tles, has re­placed Pliskova with Fed Cup rookie Barbora Kre­j­cikova, who will join Ka­te­rina Sini­akova, Barbora Strycova and Kvi­tova, if fit.

Kre­j­cikova and Sini­akova are the num­ber one ranked dou­bles play­ers, win­ning the French Open and Wim­ble­don dou­bles ti­tles this year.

“In sports, any given Sun­day any­thing can hap­pen,” said Melichar, who was born in the Czech Repub­lic but raised in Amer­ica. “We just go out and give it our best. Are we (US) the fa­vorites on pa­per? No. But I think we can do it.”

His­tory is cer­tainly on the US side.

In 12 head-to-head meet­ings, the US have won 10, in­clud­ing the last eight.

But the Czechs en­joy home court ad­van­tage and will ride a 10-tie win­ning streak into the fi­nal, hav­ing not lost a home tie since fall­ing to the US 3-2 in the 2009 World Group semi-fi­nals.

Three of their five most re­cent ti­tles have been cel­e­brated at the O2 Arena in Prague.

“I am glad that we are back in Prague in this arena to play the fi­nal,” said Pala.

“The pres­sure is there, has al­ways been there and will be there. We will see on the week­end.”

(AFP)

(From left) Mem­bers of US Fed Cup team Ali­son Riske, Danielle Collins, cap­tain Kathy Ri­naldi, Sofia Kenin and Nicole Melichar pose next to the tro­phy af­ter a draw cer­e­mony in Prague yes­ter­day.

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