CAPTAIN RINALDI HAS U.S. ONE WIN
FROM FED CUP TITLE
Ashley Marshall | April 27, 2017
Team USA advanced to its first Fed Cup final since 2010 last weekend with a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic and is now just one win away from bringing the trophy back to America for the first time in almost two decades.
For first-time captain Kathy Rinaldi, that’s the ultimate goal when the team travels to face Belarus, Nov. 11-12.
“It’s everything to me,” Rinaldi said of Fed Cup. “It’s the highest honor for me as a coach to be captain of the Fed Cup team and to win it with such an amazing group of ladies and everyone involved with this team, that’s what it’s all about.
“It would be extra special because that’s what you work for as a coach, but all credit should go to the players and their coaches. My goal was to bring the cup back to USA. We have one more to go, but it would be huge. It shows the work, it shows the camaraderie and it shows the depth in American tennis. ADVERTISEMENT ”
Should Team USA win its record 18th Fed Cup championship, Rinaldi would be the first U.S. captain to guide a team to the title in their first year as captain since Marty Riessen led the U.S. to victory in 1986 with a squad of Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.
Other first-time captains have been close – Rinaldi’s predecessor Mary Joe Fernandez’s team lost to Italy in the final in each of her first two seasons in charge in 2009 and 2010; Billie Jean King’s U.S. squad reached the final in the second year of the competition in 1964; and Zina Garrison took a team to the quarterfinals in her first year at the helm in 2004.
Chris Evert (1980), Vicki Berner (1977), Donna Floyd Fales (1967), Rosalyn Greenwood (1966) and William Kellogg (1963) also won it all in their first year as captain, but none of them lifted a trophy after just three matches, as Rinaldi hopes to do.
Team lineups will not be announced until late October or early November, but Victoria Azarenka, who missed Belarus’ quarterfinal and semifinal ties after giving birth to her first child, Leo, in December, would be an obvious inclusion for a nation competing in the Fed Cup final for the first time.
After that, the choices become less clear. Only Aliaksandra Sasnovich (No. 91) is currently ranked inside the Top 100, and Belarus has just three players – Aryna Sabalenka (122), Olga Goveortsova (144) and Vera Lapko (246) ranked inside the Top 300. Their top doubles player, Lidziya Marozava, is No. 99 in the doubles rankings.
By contrast, the U.S. has 15 players inside the Top 100 and 13 more singles players ranked between 101 and 200, although players from that group are unlikely to be called upon. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who won the decisive with rubber with CoCo Vandeweghe in Tampa last week, is also the top-ranked doubles player in the world.
While depth is important, one elite player can carry a team when you consider they can play two of the four singles matches and then also suit up for doubles, as Vandeweghe did against the Czech Republic. In a best-of-five contest, those three matches can determine the outcome of the tie by themselves.
For the U.S., some combination of Vandeweghe, Mattek-Sands, Shelby Rogers, Lauren Davis and Alison Riske – all of whom have represented Team USA in Fed Cup competition this year – along with world No. 10 Madison Keys and world No. 44 Christina McHale figure as the most likely option. Serena Williams has already said she won’t return to the court this year after announcing her pregnancy, while sister Venus has scaled back on her Fed Cup commitments.
“The girls really put their heart and soul into it,” Rinaldi said. “It means something to them. It’s tough because there are so many girls who want to play. It’s the hardest part about being a captain because you have so many good players.”
While the U.S. is searching for its first title in 17 years, it won’t be entirely new for at least a few members of the team.
Mattek-Sands was on the 2009 semifinal team that edged past the Czech Republic in Brno, but she was not selected for the final. Twelve months later, Mattek-Sands and Vandeweghe were on the 2010 team that fell to Italy, 3-1, in the championship match. In addition, current Fed Cup coach Lisa Raymond was on the team the last time the U.S. lifted the trophy in a 5-0 sweep of Spain in the 2000 final.
“Lisa and I are having a blast,” Rinaldi said of Raymond. “She is such a great friend of mine and being able to work side-by-side with a true friend… you know you’ll have each other’s back. To have her insight is invaluable. She’s super and I love working with her and enjoying our time together with the players."
America’s current Fed Cup drought is the longest in its history. When it last won the title in 2000, it had never gone more than six years without a championship or more than four years without reaching a final.
“I think everybody is super excited,” Rinaldi said. “It’s incredible. The players were extremely happy and the vibe and camaraderie was good. We have one more to go to bring the Fed Cup back to the USA. It shows how strong American tennis is and I think it shows all the hard work everybody is putting into American tennis, not just the USTA, but also the private coaches and the players.
“I think it’s really important for the young players to see how important Fed Cup is to these players, because they’re setting such a high standard and making that commitment to play and serve for their country. For me, it’s all about the players, but as a captain it would be something very special and something I would treasure forever. I believe in all of our American players and have seen so many of them grow from young juniors. I can’t even put into words how rewarding it is to see these girls grow on a tennis court and off the court. To be able to share that with the players is something extremely special.”