TEAM USA SET TO MAKE
MEMORIES AT 2018 FED CUP FINAL
Ashley Marshall | November 7, 2018
U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi says she is honored and humbled to lead her team into this weekend’s final against the Czech Republic in Prague.
Speaking at Wednesday’s pre-draw press conference at the O2 Arena, Rinaldi said she expected the final to be a memorable experience for her squad, which features three Fed Cup rookies going into the championship match as underdogs against an experienced and heavily favored Czech lineup.
“For me as captain, to be in a second final is absolutely incredible, and I love my team,” said Rinaldi, who guided Team USA to the title in Belarus 12 months ago in her first year as captain. “So thankful to all the girls that participated this year and got us to the finals, so we’re looking forward to a great competition.
“We’re going to go out there one match at a time and really compete. ADVERTISEMENT The arena’s great, the accommodations are great, we’re having such a blast. So this is going to be very memorable for all of us.”
World No. 36 Danielle Collins, No. 52 Sofia Kenin and doubles world No. 15 Nicole Melichar are all making their Team USA debuts, while singles world No. 63 Alison Riske is the one returning member from the 2017 squad that defeated Belarus in Minsk last November.
Melichar, the top-ranked doubles player on the U.S. squad, said that while the Czech team has high-ranked players, that means little once the matches get underway.
“In sports, on any given Sunday, anything can happen,” said Melichar, who was born in Brno in the Czech Republic to Czech parents but raised in the U.S. “All of these girls play unbelievably well, and our opponents play unbelievably well. It can go either way. It’s going to be a coin toss. I think we just go out and give it our best. Are we the favorites on paper? No. But I think we can do it, and our captain believes in us.
“We have a great team, regardless of what social media says and what it says on paper. We’re going to go out, and we’re going to fight.”
The Czech team features world No. 7 Petra Kvitova, singles No. 33 and doubles No. 5 Barbora Strycova and the top-ranked doubles pairing of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova.
Karolina Pliskova was originally named to captain Petr Pala’s team but was forced to pull out of the final after suffering a calf injury.
“I think we should put us as the favorite, just looking at the rankings,” Pala said. “We have Petra and the No. 1 in doubles, so we’re not going to hide it that we’re favorites. We are favorites. But just a little bit, and it’s just only on paper, so you have to win it on the court. We were favorites on many occasions, and we know the feeling.”
That said, Pala, who has led his nation to the title in five of the past seven years, recognizes the strength in depth of the U.S. team, even though it is missing several high-profile, top-ranked players who helped get Rinaldi to the finale in the first place.
“I think for some of them it’s their first Fed Cup tie, which I think it’s great to play in the finals,” said Pala, speaking about the young squad that is without the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe, Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
“Very dangerous team. Great players. Young players. They’re already ranked very high for their age, and all are improved since last year, improved very much, especially on the ranking, and they beat great players. Top-10 players. So we have to be really careful with the U.S. team.”
American hopes may very well ride on Collins, the highest-ranked American singles player on the squad who will likely begin her Fed Cup career against Siniakova, who is ranked five places above her in the rankings, on Saturday.
Twenty-four-year-old Collins (pictured above left with Melichar) has had a breakout year, 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, Collins was a trainee of renowned coach Nick Bollettieri and has climbed from world No. 167 at the start of the year to her current position at No. 36.
“I’ve had a solid year,” Collins said. “Looking back, if somebody told me I was going to get to play in the Fed Cup Final this time last year, I would have been so ecstatic. I’m really proud of my results and everything leading up to this. What a way to end the year, representing your country and being with these girls.”
The youngest of Team USA’s players this week in Prague is teenager Sofia Kenin, who will turn 20 next week. A former Junior Fed Cup champion under Rinaldi, Kenin says she’s relishing the chance to suit up for the U.S.
“It’s such an honor to be here, and I’m so thankful to Kathy for being the captain,” Kenin said. “She’s amazing, and I love working with her. Having these girls on our team is amazing. It’s going to be an amazing experience, my first Fed Cup experience as a pro. I’m very, very excited, and hopefully we can do well.
“It’s a complete different from juniors and playing now. This is honestly such an honor for me, and I’ve had a good year. I’m so excited to represent my country and be here representing my country in the Fed Cup Finals. I can’t ask for anything better.”