Serena Williams is 11-0 in her Fed Cup career.
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By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – With the Top 4 Americans in the world rankings all on the squad – and four ranked in the Top 30 – U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez has assembled her best possible team.
Now, the mission is simple: shake off any disappointment of a loss to Italy in the first round of the World Group earlier this year, defeat Sweden in this World Group Play-off and secure a spot into the World Group for 2014.
"Every time we have a Fed Cup tie, we're here to win," Fernandez said. "We're here to get those three matches under our belt first and go from there. Doesn't matter what division or what the purpose is. [The] objective is to win."
The best-of-five match series runs April 20-21 on an outdoor hard court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center in Delray Beach, Fla. It will be the third time the Delray Beach Tennis Center has hosted Fed Cup, the last time coming in a 2007 quarterfinal against Belgium, and the U.S. Fed Cup team is undefeated in ties played in Florida, including two in Delray Beach, going 15-0 overall.
It will really be a home tie for many of the players on the team, with Serena and Venus Williams residents of nearby Palm Beach Gardens; Fernandez having grown up in south Florida; and Sloane Stephens and Varvara Lepchenko occasionally training with USTA Player Development coaches in Boca Raton, Fla.
"We love playing at home, of course," said Venus, who is 18-4 in her Fed Cup career. "So this is our third tie in Delray, and I'm sure there will be more that will come here. It's awesome for us."
The U.S. will look to keep its Florida winning streak alive with Serena, the No. 1 player in the world, likely manning the No. 1 singles slot. For the No. 2 singles spot, Fernandez has the choice between seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus, the current world No. 21, world No. 16 Stephens or No. 27 Lepchenko, who upset Top 15 players Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci on clay in Italy in the first round.
For the doubles rubber, Fernandez has many options. Serena and Venus have teamed to win 13 Grand Slam titles together, while Lepchenko is currently No. 69 in the world in doubles and Stephens won three of the four junior Grand Slam doubles titles in 2010.
The official lineup is determined at Friday’s draw ceremony, and Fernandez always likes to watch everyone in practice for the week before making her final decisions. Both team captains can make substitutions during competition but only using the four players nominated at the draw.
Sweden’s likely singles players are world No. 54 Sofia Arvidsson and No. 66 Johanna Larsson, both Fed Cup veterans. Hilda Melander and Sandra Roma round out the Swedish roster.
Serena is a perfect 11-0 in her Fed Cup career, including going 4-0 in 2012 for the U.S. She has not played Arvidsson since 2007 and never faced Larsson. Stephens, who defeated Serena en route to the 2013 Australian Open semifinals, has the most experience against the Swedish team as of late, having defeated Arvidsson in straight sets on hard courts in Brisbane in January.
It can be hard to imagine the 15-time Grand Slam champion Serena feeling much pressure, with little left to accomplish in what will be a Hall of Fame career. But she stressed that she wants to bring her best for her country and her teammates.
"You really want to be able to win," Serena said of her approach to Fed Cup. "I think in general I feel a little bit of pressure when I'm playing for the team because I want to be able to do really well. You're not just playing for yourself."
Should Stephens, 20, take the court as the No. 2 singles player, it would be her Fed Cup singles debut. She teamed with Liezel Huber to win doubles in the U.S.’s 5-0 sweep of Ukraine in the World Group Play-offs last year. She has struggled with results since her semifinal run in Melbourne, but a great week of Fed Cup practice and competition could help her right things on court.
"I think we all push each other," Stephens said. "Obviously, playing with Venus and Serena and Varvara, we all want to make each other better. Just being around each other it's just a really good vibe."
Sweden advanced to the World Group Play-off after defeating Argentina 3-2 in a World Group II quarterfinal in February behind wins from Arvidsson and Larson in singles and doubles. The U.S. has not faced Sweden in Fed Cup since 1988, before the current home-and-away tie format was adopted.
"We've been the underdogs many times and have come through with the big upset," Fernandez said of her five-year tenure as captain. "Fed Cup, any time you play for a team, it's different. Someone that you expect to win might deal with the pressure differently. I think we're really aware of that and that you really have to focus and come in treating it as huge match, whether you're the favorite or not.
"We know the girls, their top two, pretty well. They can play big tennis and worry you," she added. "We just have to be solid and stick to what we do well. Hopefully that's going to carry us to the finish line."