RINALDI CONFIDENT IN HER 'A' TEAM
FOR FED CUP FINAL
Ashley Marshall | November 9, 2017
With some of the greatest players to ever pick up a racquet calling America home, it comes as little surprise that the U.S. has had more Fed Cup success than any other nation.
Eight different American women have won multiple Grand Slam women’s singles titles in the Open era – no other nation has even three women with more than one title – and Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova alone have combined to win 59 major titles.
Since the WTA’s computerized rankings began in 1975, seven Americans have been ranked No. 1 in the world: Evert, Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams and Serena. Each player has been on a Fed Cup-winning team, highlighting both the depth of talent and continued success in U.S. tennis on the international stage.
This year’s team has a slightly different feel to it, but Team USA captain Kathy Rinaldi is adamant her squad is more than capable of bringing a Fed Cup back to the U.S.
"This is my 'A' team," Rinaldi said at the pre-draw press conference, when asked whether it was the strongest possible team she could have selected. ADVERTISEMENT "I believe in these girls, all four of them. I'm extremely lucky to have this team and we have gotten this far.
"The three players (Coco Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers, Alison Riske) who have played this year have been very instrumental and we have strong camaraderie. Sloane [Stephens] obviously wanted to play in Hawaii but could not due to her injury, and when we were speaking back then it was a goal for her and us to get to the final and for her to join us, which she has. We have each other's backs and we really care for each other. We're excited, we're ready to go."
Current top-ranked American and world No. 5 Venus Williams is not on the roster for the final in Minsk and sister Serena has yet to return to the court following the birth of her daughter earlier this fall. Madison Keys is also absent with a wrist injury, meaning three of the top five Americans in the rankings, all inside the Top 25, are not competing this weekend.
But Vandeweghe is up to a career-high No. 10 in the world and Stephens will finish 2017 as the third-ranked American (behind Venus and Vandeweghe) on the heels of her US Open title. Rogers is currently ranked No. 59 and Riske No. 70, the eighth- and 12th-ranked Americans.
"I did speak with Venus," Rinaldi said Wednesday. "She's been incredibly supportive and terrific with her communication. It's been a long year for her, obviously an amazing year for her as well. I speak to everybody in the Top 100 and beyond. I try to communicate with everybody and let them know. I think that's really important to communicate. For everyone to give us their support, we're very lucky with the players, everyone backing each other, which has been amazing."
Belarus' top-ranked player, Aryna Sabalenka, is No. 78 in the world, and overall, the Belarusians have just three players inside the Top 200. Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka is not on the team as the result of an ongoing personal matter, which also forced her to miss the US Open in September.
Up until the final major of the year two months ago, none of the four players selected for the Fed Cup final by Rinaldi had won a Grand Slam title in singles or doubles. In fact, entering 2017, only Stephens had been past the quarterfinals of a major. But much has changed this year. Stephens won her first Grand Slam title in New York, and Vandeweghe reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and the US Open, as well as the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Meantime, Rogers was a quarterfinalist at the 2016 French Open and reached the third round at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open this year, and Riske has advanced to the fourth round at the US Open and the third round at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
"I think if you look all the way down the line, we're very strong," Rinaldi said of her team. "We've had several players really step up. We have a lot of young players stepping up, even younger [with] the juniors coming up. It's a very exciting time for women's tennis in the U.S."
The last time the U.S. won the Fed Cup in 2000, the team consisted of Monica Seles and Davenport, both former world No. 1 singles players, and Capriati, a soon-to-be world No. 1. The trio had a combined 15 Grand Slam women’s singles titles. The fourth member of the team was Lisa Raymond, a former world No. 1 doubles player and owner of the career Grand Slam in women’s doubles. Raymond is now Rinaldi's Fed Cup coach.
Of course, it is not unusual for the U.S. to field a stacked lineup. In fact, more often than not, Team USA starts among the favorites. Fourteen of the 17 title-winning teams had the top U.S. player on the roster. And over the past four decades, all but two of the past 12 U.S. Fed Cup-winning teams have featured at least two players who were both Grand Slam singles champions and world No. 1s.
Five of America’s championship-winning teams were made up of every top-ranked American at the time, whether it was Darlene Hard and Billie Jean King, ranked No. 1 and 2, in the inaugural Fed Cup in 1963, when each country picked two players; Evert, King and Austin in 1978, when each team had three players; or Davenport, the Williams sisters and Seles in 1999 when the top four-ranked Americans all played the final.
Only one U.S. team has won the Fed Cup without featuring a past or future world No. 1 on the team. That was in 1969, the seventh year of the annual event, when Nancy Richey, Julie Heldman and Jane Bartkowicz defeated Australia at the Athens Tennis Club in Greece.
Still, Richey won two Grand Slam women’s singles titles (one pre-Open era), four doubles titles and went on to be elected into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Heldman reached the quarterfinals or later in all four Grand Slams in both singles and doubles, and Bartkowicz won nine titles and was a two-time US Open quarterfinalist.
It's too early to say how high Vandeweghe, Stephens, Rogers and Riske will climb over the coming years, but a Fed Cup triumph in Minsk on Sunday would certainly put them in elite company. It would also bring Rinaldi full circle, going from a Junior Fed Cup captain where she worked with many of today's top stars, to winning the Fed Cup with players who came through the junior ranks themselves.
"I'm just honored to be a part of it, have been a part of it for the last nine, 10 years," Rinaldi said. "To see these young ladies reach their goals has been highly rewarding, to be on the outside and watch that happen, see everybody working so hard to achieve their goals. I think it's going to be a great 2018."