Sloane Stephens and Alize Cornet are the No. 1 singles players.
© Ron Angle
Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys will compete in singles for the U.S. Fed Cup team.
© Ron Angle
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
The milestones and accolades have been piling up in Sloane Stephens’ rising career: Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Top 20 as a teenager. This weekend she will add another highlight to her resume: No. 1 singles player for the U.S. Fed Cup team.
U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez nominated Stephens, currently No. 18 in the world, and Madison Keys, No. 42, to compete in singles versus France in a World Group Play-off at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, April 19-20. Stephens was drawn to open the tie Saturday against French No. 2 Caroline Garcia. Keys follows against Fed Cup veteran and French No. 1 Alize Cornet in the second singles match of the best-of-five match series.
On Sunday, Stephens and Cornet will be the first match, then Keys versus Garcia. The doubles match, scheduled between Christina McHale and Lauren Davis of the U.S. against Virginie Razzano and Claire Feuerstein of France, will complete the tie.
Varvara Lepchenko was originally nominated for the U.S. team but is unable to compete due to injury. Davis, who played in the U.S.’s World Group First Round loss alongside Keys and McHale, replaces her on the U.S. squad.
Following Friday's Draw Ceremony, Fernandez acknowledged how strong a team France had but said she has a lot of confidence in her young players -- and their all-court power games.
"On our side, Sloane and Madison both possess power and can be aggressive [and] they can defend as well," Fernandez said. "Cornet and Garcia have a little bit different styles. Garcia plays a little bit more straightforward, takes the ball earlier. Cornet is a little bit loopier off the forehand and aggressive off the backhand. It's about taking care of what we can control on our side of the court and adjusting, if need be."
The winner of this weekend’s tie will compete in the prestigious World Group for 2015 with a chance to compete for the Fed Cup title. The loser will be relegated to World Group II.
Stephens, 21, played Fed Cup singles for the first time in the U.S. team’s 3-2 win over Sweden in the World Group Play-offs in Delray Beach, Fla., last year, falling to Sofia Arvidsson in three sets. Overall, she is 1-1 in Fed Cup, having won doubles with Liezel Huber against Ukraine in a 2012 Play-off on the road.
"Last year was the first singles tie that I played, so I was a bit nervous. It was a lot of pressure," Stephens said. "I'm excited to be here, excited to be with the girls, and excited for a great weekend. Like we've been saying, teamwork makes a dream work. We're just going to go with that and do our best."
Keys, 19, made her Fed Cup debut in the U.S.’s 3-1 loss to Italy in the opening round earlier this year, losing her opening singles match to Camila Giorgi. Keys then teamed with the 20-year-old Davis, also making her Fed Cup debut, to win the doubles rubber.
McHale, 21, has 4-4 Fed Cup record, but this would mark her first doubles appearance. Fed Cup captains can change their singles players and doubles teams for Day 2 following the first day of play.
Cornet is just a 6-14 in Fed Cup, but like her teammate Garcia, she comes into the tie fresh off a title victory. Cornet, the world No. 21, won her first title of the year in Poland last week, defeating world No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska en route.
Garcia, just 19, comes to St. Louis with a career-high ranking of No. 51 after winning her first career WTA title in Bogota. She defeated former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the final. This will be Garcia’s second career Fed Cup match and her first in singles.
Overall, the U.S. is 11-1 vs. France in Fed Cup competition, with its only loss coming in the 2003 Fed Cup final. The two teams last met in the 2010 Quarterfinals in Lievin, France, which was a 4-1 win for the U.S.