Fighting to the end,
U.S. falls in Fed Cup final
Pat Mitsch | November 11, 2018
PRAGUE -- A dramatically close and nearly historic Fed Cup final match on Sunday in Prague ended with the Czech Republic reclaiming the Fed Cup title, but not without an American rookie opening many eyes to a seemingly bright future.
Katerina Siniakova defeated Sofia Kenin, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5, in a 3-hour, 44-minute tug-of-war in front of 14,500 affixed fans inside the O2 Arena, clinching the Czechs’ 11th Fed Cup title and sixth in the last eight years. While the 19-year-old Kenin, playing her second match in her debut Fed Cup tie, rallied from a set down and multiple second- and third-set deficits, even holding two match points on serve in the third, the 22-year-old Czech finally prevailed in a match decided by the slimmest of margins.
“It was a long match,” Kenin (pictured above) said. “Really a lot of effort, long points.
We fought hard until the end. It’s disappointing for me, because I had two match points that could have turned things around. But I fought my hardest and I literally did everything I could.”
The rallies in this one featured as many as 30 shots, and one game – the fifth game of the third set – lasted 27 points and 19 minutes. The total match time fell 16 minutes shy of the four-hour record for longest-ever Fed Cup match, but that record was set before Fed Cup instituted a final-set tiebreak and featured a 10-8 third set.
Kenin hit 42 winners compared to Siniakova's 24 but also made 76 unforced errors, compared to the Czech’s 43. The ultimate difference, though, may very well have been the world No. 31 capitalizing on more of her break chances, which came frequently for both players. Overall, the match featured 17 breaks of serve, with Siniakova converting 9 of 18 chances and Kenin going 8 for 23. The most important of Siniakova’s nine came with Kenin serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. The American had two match points at 40-15 that Siniakova saved, and rode that momentum to victory.
“I think during most parts of the match, Katerina had the upper hand, but Sofia always, always came back and suddenly, we were facing two match points,” said Czech captain Petr Pala. “So it was really close, and you can see it’s very hard to win a point against her. Even though she lost two matches (this weekend), I think she played unbelievable. It was so close. As we mentioned before, 3-0 on the paper doesn’t mention the exact result on the court.”
Kenin is only the third player to make her Fed Cup debut in a final for the U.S. and ended up being Captain Kathy Rinaldi’s No. 1 singles nomination. In her two matches this weekend, she spent a total of 6 hours, 27 minutes on court.
“Sonya, I’ve known her since she was 7 – 7 years old,” said U.S. Captain Kathy Rinaldi. “I couldn’t be more proud of what she’s done this week. That match today, both girls, both players, was incredible. I’m so honored to have been a part of that match. They really fought hard. The points were incredible. It’s just something I’ll never forget.”
“And as far as 2018 for Fed Cup, it’s been an incredible year,” Rinaldi said. “To be back into a Final, so grateful to all the great players this year that played on all three of the teams. We got here – a real true team effort with all great players.”
The U.S. will begin its 2019 Fed Cup campaign February 9-10 with a First-Round tie vs. Australia at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, N.C. – where the U.S. began its Fed Cup title defense this year with Serena and Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe. Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys also featured on the U.S. roster in 2018, helping to defeat France in the Semifinals.
“I’m pretty fortunate last year and this year to have so many of those top players participate,” Rinaldi said. “It’s a grueling, grueling calendar. It’s a grueling year. I know many wanted to be here but couldn’t. Simply because of injury or fatigue, and you know, I support them, I support them all. I want what’s best for all the players, and we have just so many great players, so it’s no problem. Next year, I’m hoping players want to play because they want to play Fed Cup, and they want to represent their country.
"I’m looking forward to 2019," Rinaldi said. "We start it off again in February against Australia in Asheville (N.C.) at home. We had such a great time there last year – it was sold out. Asheville does such an incredible job. They’re super excited to have us back, so it should be a lot of fun."