Q&A: U.S. FED CUP CAPTAIN
Ashley Marshall | April 12, 2017
U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi Wednesday announced her team for next weekend’s semifinal tie against the Czech Republic. The tie in Tampa Bay, Fla., will be Rinaldi's second with the team after she took over from Mary Joe Fernandez in December. USTA.com caught up with Rinaldi to discuss her first fourth months at the helm, the quarterfinal success over Germany in Hawaii, and the gameplan she hopes to use to upset the defending champions.
USTA.com: How have your first couple months been in your new role as captain?
Kathy Rinaldi: It’s been exciting. It’s been an honor to work with all these talented players and wonderful young ladies. When I was first appointed, I made some home visits and spoke with all the girls and tried to meet with them face to face and if I couldn’t meet with them I made sure I spoke with them over the phone. I went and saw Bethanie [Mattek-Sands] and CoCo [Vandeweghe] and Sloane [Stephens] and I saw [Nicole] Gibbs and Madison [Keys] and Louisa Chirico and several of the girls. Then I spoke to some others abroad, just reaching out to everybody and getting their thoughts and getting the ball rolling.
Then of course, the first tie came up right after the Australian Open and that was super exciting and I had a great team and a great experience the entire week. We had a lot of fun and worked hard and we really supported each other. It was really a fun experience.
USTA.com: Generally speaking, what’s your process for selecting a team?
Rinaldi: Obviously you want to try to put together the best team possible. You definitely look at the list of players, and we have so many good players that it’s tough to pick. A lot of these girls I’ve known for a very long time and I’ve seen them come up the ranks and I believe in all of them, so it makes it very difficult to pick and choose who you’re going to take. It’s difficult when they’re all starting off the season so strong and having great results.
USTA.com: Looking back at Hawaii, was it everything you expected it to be?
Rinaldi: I had been around Fed Cup before as a coach under Zina Garrison but it’s completely different as a captain because you are making the decisions. I have a great coach in Lisa Raymond who’s a very good friend of mine and we trust each other and have a close friendship so that is extremely helpful and beneficial and then the players are all so great. They know each other and the camaraderie is so wonderful between them so that made it really special. I think it was more than I had expected. The week flew by and each day was really a lot of fun. We had team bonding time and did some activities as a team which I knew was really important to the players and to me as a captain to make it a memorable week. It’s really about the players and their experience.
USTA.com: Aside from the victory, what did you enjoy most about the experience?
Rinaldi: The team spirit. The girls were incredible. That was what I enjoyed the most – my time with them and the staff and everybody coming together for one common goal. You could just feel the support and feel that everyone had each other’s back. It was my first tie as captain and I’ll never forget it and it was really very special.
USTA.com: What makes Fed Cup so special?
Rinaldi: Because tennis is so individual throughout the year, it’s one time you really come together and represent your country and you can let your guard down a little bit with each other. You all have one common goal and you’re working together and supporting each other. All of these players are stars and great players and there’s only four positions and you never know what role you might have. To see them step up and be there for one another and have each other’s back is what it’s all about. You’re going to win some and lose some, but you’re still going to walk away with a really special memory by being there and being selfless. On tour, you have to think more about yourself, but when you come as a team, you’re representing your country which is a huge honor.
USTA.com: Looking to the team you’ve selected, you have Bethanie, CoCo and Shelby Rogers returning from the team you took to Hawaii, and you’re bringing back Lauren Davis. What do these players bring to the team?
Rinaldi: It’s nice to have the option that all four players can play singles and doubles, and I’m confident in our combinations. Obviously CoCo and Bethanie bring a lot, not just to the court but also in camaraderie. They were great in the past tie and they’re strong both as a doubles team and in singles. CoCo started off the year strong and Bethanie has had some very good results lately too, beating one of the Czech Republic players, [Katerina] Siniakova, in Miami, so it’s nice to have that. And Lauren’s had a super year and got herself into the 30s [in the rankings] this year after ending the year well. It’s a strong team all the way through and we have a lot of options with this team. We’re looking to have fun again and compete hard.
USTA.com: You’re playing the tie on a temporary green clay court. Why did you pick that over a hard court?
Rinaldi: It’s hard to pick and choose against the Czech Republic because they’re pretty solid on all surfaces, but looking at their results on HarTru and it being clay court season, we thought a little bit slower surface would give us a bit of an edge. But they’re tough on all surfaces. We decided to go with the clay and hopefully that will pay off for us.
USTA.com: Knowing that Roland Garros and the European clay-court season is coming up, did that play a factor in choosing a clay court for this tie?
Rinaldi: It does, but also you just try to pick the surface that will give your team the edge. Knowing the players and how important Fed Cup is to them, they would agree to play on any surface. It just happened that we decided to give the clay a try since the Czech Republic has had so much success on the hard courts and seem to favor the faster courts with their players. We thought maybe clay would give us an edge.
USTA.com: There are so many young American players in the Top 100 of the pro and junior rankings. How exciting is that for you as a coach and former player?
Rinaldi: It’s so exciting and the USTA National Campus is amazing. I think when you have a great group of players coming up, they push each other. That gives the younger players an extra belief and then they start pushing each other. I also think it’s the work of all the coaches, not just the USTA staff who work extremely hard and are very dedicated, but also the private sector and private coaches. There’s a lot more inclusiveness and we’re all working toward a common goal for the future of American tennis and it’s starting to pay off. Seeing each other do it pushes each other to the next level, so it’s an exciting time to be involved in American tennis. It’s fun to see it.