2018 U.S. FED CUP
FINAL TEAM ANNOUNCED
Ashley Marshall | October 31, 2018
U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi says she is confident in Team USA's ability to go toe-to-toe with the Czech Republic in next month’s final, despite knowing that on paper her team may go into the championship match as underdogs.
With a dozen women ranked inside the Top 100, the U.S. has more depth than abny other country at the top of the sport. And that depth will be put to the test like never before after Rinaldi named three Fed Cup rookies to her four-player team set to travel to Prague for the final, to be played Nov. 10-11.
World No. 35 Danielle Collins and No. 48 Sofia Kenin will each make their Fed Cup debuts, as will world doubles No. 15 Nicole Melichar. The trio will be joined by singles world No. 63 Alison Riske, who was part of Rinaldi’s championship-winning squad 12 months ago in Belarus.
7 Petra Kvitova, No. 8 Karolina Pliskova, doubles No. 1 Katerina Siniakova and doubles No. 5 Barbora Strycova will represent the Czech Republic for captain Petr Pala in the best-of-five-match series, which will be played on a hard court inside Prague’s 10,700-seat O2 Arena.
“I have always said since I became captain that we have so many great American players right now, so many great young players,” Rinaldi (pictured above) said. “It’s an exciting time for American women. It’s going to be a great experience.
“I believe in the girls, and I know they’re going to compete. The Czech Republic has a great team, tremendous depth and a good history in Fed Cup. It has been a full team effort to get to the final, and hopefully we can keep the cup. This is a great opportunity for these young ladies to step up. They have all had tremendous years.”
November’s final pits the two most successful nations in Fed Cup history against each other. The U.S. has won a record 18 titles, while the Czech Republic has lifted the trophy 10 times and has reached four of the past five finals.
Play will begin at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. ET) on Saturday, Nov. 10, with two singles matches pitting each country’s No. 1 player against the other’s No. 2. Sunday’s play will begin at noon local time (6 a.m. ET), with the two reverse singles matches — No. 1 vs. No. 1; No. 2 vs. No. 2 — followed by a possible fifth-and-decisive doubles match. A revised schedule for Sunday may take place if a team clinches in the third or fourth match. Tennis Channel will present live daily coverage.
The U.S. is 10-2 all-time against the Czechs in Fed Cup. The two nations have met twice in the final, with Czechoslovakia winning in 1985, in Japan, and the U.S. winning in 1986, in Prague. They last met in the 2017 semifinals, on red clay in Tampa, Fla., which the U.S. won en route to winning its first Fed Cup title since 2000.
But if Rinaldi is to remain undefeated as U.S. Fed Cup captain and bring the title back to American soil, she will need to do so with a new-look team, her sixth unique squad in six ties since she took over for Mary Joe Fernandez in 2017.
Collins, 24, has had a breakout year on tour, highlighted by semifinal performances at the Miami Open and Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose. A two-time NCAA singles champion at the University of Virginia in 2014 and 2016, Collins will be the No. 1 U.S. player in the final and could face Kvitova in a battle of top-ranked players on Sunday.
Also expected to play singles is 19-year-old Kenin, the youngest player ranked in the Top 50 and a former junior national champion. She was a part of the 2014 U.S. team that won the Junior Fed Cup title under then-captain Rinaldi. Kenin, who will turn 20 years old three days after the final, will become the youngest of 16 Americans to make their Fed cup debut as teenagers. The most recent player to debut as a teen was Taylor Townsend at 18 years, nine months old in 2015.
Rounding out the team is Melichar, who reached her career-high No. 15 world ranking in doubles after a 2018 season in which she reached the Wimbledon doubles final and won the Wimbledon mixed doubles, and Riske, who reached her sixth career WTA final on clay in Nurnberg and also made quarterfinals at both grass- and hard-court events this season.
Only two American players have previously made their Fed Cup playing debuts in the final – Coco Vandeweghe vs. Italy in 2010 and Chanda Rubin vs. Spain in 1995.
This will be only the fifth time in U.S. Fed Cup history, and the first time since 2014, that three U.S. players are making their debuts at the same tie. Madison Keys, Riske and Lauren Davis all debuted in the 2014 first-round tie against Italy in Cleveland. Three players also debuted at the same time in 2006 (against Germany), 1988 (against Switzerland) and 1963 (against Italy).
“Danielle obviously is a big hitter, very aggressive,” Rinaldi said of Collins. “She is a tough competitor, as well. Sonya was on our Junior Fed Cup team, and I have known her since she was 7 or 8, and I saw her come along. Just a really good competitor, a smart player. Danielle is transitioning to the professional tour and has done an exceptional job, and Sonya has improved every year.
“Ali thrives on indoor fast courts, and she was on the team last year and brings that experience, and Nicole is the top American doubles player. She’s had a tremendous year this year, and she earned her spot. They all have experience playing on the biggest courts. Everyone is excited, and we will give it our best shot.”
America’s current top three highest-ranked players — world No. 6 Sloane Stephens, No. 15 Serena Williams and No. 16 Keys — are all absent from captain Rinaldi’s team. Also notably missing is world No. 40 Venus Williams and 2017 Fed Cup winners Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Rinaldi said a number of Americans who have been a part of her squad over the past two years were unavailable to play in the final, needing time to recover from injuries ahead of the 2019 season.
She said she respected the players’ decisions to recuperate and thanked each of them for the role they played in helping the U.S. reach the final.
Neither Venus nor Serena Williams — who have a combined 32-2 Fed Cup singles record and 30 Grand Slam women’s singles titles — has played since the US Open seven weeks ago.
Keys, who missed time with wrist and abdominal injuries earlier this year, has played just three matches in the past two months, and Vandeweghe, who won all three of Team USA's points in the final in Minsk last year, has seen a dip in her singles form since suffering an ankle injury at Wimbledon. The reigning US Open women’s doubles champion has lost her past eight singles matches and has dropped outside the Top 100.
Also unavailable is 2017 US Open singles champion and Fed Cup winner Stephens. Rinaldi said Stephens was honest about the effect the 2018 schedule has had on her and said she hopes to welcome her back to the team soon.
In some respects, the 2018 final team is not too dissimilar to the squad Fernandez named to face Italy in the 2010 final in San Diego. In that final, Vandeweghe was a Fed Cup rookie, and Mattek-Sands was the highest-ranked singles player at No. 60 in the world.
Additional similarities can be seen in the fact that the 2010 Italian team was contesting its fourth final in five years and was led by French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. In Prague, the Czech Republic will also contest a fourth final in five years and will be led by two-time Wimbledon champ and former world No. 2 Kvitova.