VANDEWEGHE LEADS U.S. PAST CZECHS,
INTO FED CUP FINAL
Ashley Marshall | April 23, 2017
WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. – With history on its side and an energetic crowd rallying behind it, Team USA booked its ticket to the Fed Cup final on Sunday.
CoCo Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands teamed up to defeat Katerina Siniakova and Kristyna Pliskova, 6-2, 6-3, in a decisive winner-takes-all doubles match on a blistering afternoon at the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa Bay. Their victory gave the U.S. a 3-2 overall match win in the best-of-five contest.
The U.S. will now travel to face Belarus in the championship match, Nov. 11-12, at a site to be determined, as it looks to win its record-extending 18th championship. The Americans last reached the Fed Cup title match in 2010 and last won the Fed Cup championship in 2000.
"Obviously we're building off what [former U.S. captain] Mary Joe [Fernandez] started," said first-year U.S.
captain Kathy Rinaldi. "It's been an unbelievable couple of ties for me. Coco said it well: 'These girls are amazing.' It's been a lot of fun it's super special. It's something that I'll never forget. Looking forward to the final."
The Czech Republic has not defeated the U.S., which improved to a perfect 5-0 in the Sunshine State, since 1985. With Sunday's victory, Team USA improved to 10-2 lifetime against the Czechs.
"We were facing favorable United States team and girls all, they all put in great performance.," Czech captain Petr Pala said. "They all fought. We just came one point short. But I'm proud of the whole team. I'm looking forward to see them again in other matches. Well, I'm still disappointed even, you know, I'm proud the way everyone performed. But still disappointed. Obviously everyone wants to win."
The doubles victory follows Vandeweghe's singles win over Siniakova to lead off Sunday, 6-4, 6-0, which put the Americans up, 2-1, and Marketa Vondrousov's win over Lauren Davis, 6-2, 7-5, that knotted that tie at 2-2 and sent it to the decisive doubles match. On Saturday, Vandeweghe beat Vondrousova in straight sets before Siniakova toppled Shelby Rogers to earn a Day 1 split.
With Sunday's doubles win, Vandeweghe, the top-ranked U.S. player at the tie, became the first American in more than two decades, and just the third American woman overall, to win three live points in the same tie. Vandeweghe, who has now won nine consecutive Fed Cup matches between singles and doubles play, joins Lindsay Davenport – who accomplished the feat in the World Group semifinals in 1995 – and her former captain Fernandez, who won two singles matches and a decisive doubles match against Austria in the 1996 World Group quarterfinal.
"It was an amazing day as a team," Vandeweghe said. "It shows that every point counts in this event, and we all came together when it mattered most. That's what you expect out of a Fed Cup tie."
Inside the stadium court Sunday, it was a case of deja vu for Team USA, which also defeated the Czech Republic in the final doubles match when the two countries last played in 2009. Mattek-Sands was on the court on that occasion inside the Starobrno Rondo Arena in Brno, Czech Republic, partnering Liezel Huber in a semifinal.
In addition, the U.S. also won live doubles matches to advance in the 2010 semifinal against Russia, the 2009 quarterfinals against Argentina, the 1996 quarterfinals against Austria and the 1995 semifinals against France.
Vandeweghe's and Mattek-Sands' doubles triumph set out a raucous celebration including red, white and blue streamers and a celebratory parade around the court with the Stars and Stripes.
"It's amazing," Mattek-Sands said. "I mean, I think the best way to describe it is our reaction after the match. November is still kind of far away, so we have a lot of tennis kind of in between then, but we're going to celebrate a little bit today and enjoy the win."
In the first match on Sunday, world No. 24 Vandeweghe won the final nine games to beat No. 38 Siniakova. The turning point came at 4-4 in the first set when Siniakova hit three double faults, the third of which handed Vandeweghe a decisive break. Serving for the set, Vandeweghe ripped a forehand winner down the line to give the U.S. the early advantage.
After cruising through the next five games, an ace at 30-15 brought up two match points. When Siniakova barely got enough on a backhand return to clear the net, Vandeweghe closed in on the short ball and rolled a backhand down the line in front of her bench to seal the victory.
With Team USA needing one win from the remaining two matches, Rinaldi went with Davis to face 17-year-old Vondrousova, who made her Fed Cup debut on Saturday.
Davis was broken three times in the first set, but she led 3-1 in the second set and had two chances to go up 4-2. Davis missed a set point at 5-3 after breaking at love in the previous game, and that hat re-energized the 17-year-old, who claimed the final four games to send the semifinal into the decisive doubles.
Rinaldi then turned to Vandeweghe to partner Mattek-Sands in the pivotal doubles match. The pair previosuly teamed up several times in 2016, coming together to beat Australia and Poland, representing Team USA at the Rio Olympics and winning the doubles title in Indian Wells.
The Americans raced out to a 3-0 lead and built a 5-1 advantage behind breaks in the second and sixth games. In the second set, a break in the fourth game proved to be the pivitol moment, and Mattek-Sands served out the match with new balls to punch Team USA's ticket to Belarus, a country none of the U.S. players or captain has been to before.
"I love everything about the role," Rinaldi said of being Team USA's captain. "I knew what I was getting into, and I love it. I love the girls, the competition. Yes, at this level you always have little bumps in the road or what have you, but that's part of it. And I like that part. I like the challenge. When you're working with great, tremendous athletes and tremendous young ladies, it's very rewarding."