VANDEWEGHE IS FED CUP
ACE IN THE HOLE FOR TEAM USA
Ashley Marshall | April 26, 2017
“The love of her country, the love of her teammates, the love of the game.”
That’s how U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi explained CoCo Vandeweghe’s passion for Fed Cup, predicting that it’s the pride Vandeweghe wears on her sleeve for Team USA that will bring the Fed Cup title back to U.S. later this year.
Rinaldi’s team is into the Fed Cup final for the first time since 2010 and will look to capture its first championship in 17 years when it travels to Belarus in November. In the largest annual event in women’s sport, it’s Vandeweghe who is slowly carving out a niche as Team USA’s go-to Fed Cup weapon.
This past weekend at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., Vandeweghe did something only two Americans had done before her: win three live matches, also known as rubbers, in one Fed Cup tie. Former U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez won three live rubbers against Austria in the 1996 World Group quarterfinal after Lindsay Davenport became the first to achieve the feat in the World Group semifinal against France one year earlier.
With singles victories last weekend over Katerina Siniakova and Marketa Vondrousova, and a doubles triumph with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Vandeweghe almost single-handedly carried the U.S. past the three-time defending champion Czech Republic and into the championship match.
With her three wins against the Czechs and two against Germany – accomplished in the U.S.’s first-round tie in February – Vandeweghe has now won five live matches in the same year. Even better, she ran her overall streak to nine consecutive match victories (singles and doubles) after an 0-3 start to her Fed Cup career, which began in 2010.
No American player has won as many live Fed Cup matches in one year since the Fed Cup format was revamped in 1995 – and the California native still has one more tie to go.
“I think that number just states how much it means to me to play for my country, even if it is a detriment to WTA singles,” Vandeweghe said of her win streak. “But it's important to me. I want to play. I'll continue to keep playing as long as I'm called upon.
“I think more people should take that as a priority because Fed Cup is such a great atmosphere, such a great kick-starter to a career. It's such a great momentum builder for a lot of different things to build on for the rest of the season and moving forward from there.”
Lisa Raymond (2003), Serena Williams (1999) and Davenport (1996) each won five Fed Cup matches for the U.S. in one calendar year, although at least two of each of their five victories came after a tie was already mathematically beyond doubt (often referred to as a dead rubber).
The only American ever to win more live rubbers in the same year was Martina Navratilova in 1986, but back then, nations played five rounds of ties, each as best-of-three (as opposed to the current best-of-five format). And it just happens that Navratilova is one of the greatest players ever, going 15-0 in singles and 16-1 in doubles in 20 Fed Cup ties for the U.S. between 1982 and 2004.
“She played some great tennis last weekend and came up with the big wins,” Rinaldi said of Vandeweghe. “She put us in a good position. The past two ties she has been absolutely amazing. You can see the emotion that it brings out in CoCo and how much it means to her.
“You feel a lot of pressure playing for a team and playing for your country and it’s not an easy feat to be out there, but she rises to the occasion. She’s made it very clear that it’s a goal of hers to win the Fed Cup. She loves playing for her country and that goes back to her mom’s roots playing for her country at the Olympics. It’s just wonderful to be a part of that. It’s an honor for me.”
With the Williams sisters scaling back on Fed Cup participation, third-ranked American Madison Keys sidelined as she recovers from wrist surgery and former world No. 11 Sloane Stephens also injured, it has fallen on Vandeweghe, the fourth-highest-ranked American, to become a leader on the U.S. team. It’s a role she has embraced.
Vandeweghe, who is currently ranked No. 23 in the world, is well-suited to the position. She has the all-court game and the fiery temperament to simultaneously overpower opponents from the baseline and work the crowd into a frenzy.
“She really does bring that emotion out,” Rinaldi said. “The crowd feeds off her and she feeds off the crowd. In all my years of playing tennis, that atmosphere [in Florida] was incredible. You can’t ask for more than that.”
But the pressure will be on the U.S. when they play on the road in November, especially if Vandeweghe leads America as she did in the first two rounds.
The U.S. has never won the Fed Cup without at least one of the top-three-ranked Americans on the team. In 10 of the record 17 title wins, the team featured both the No. 1 and No. 2 American women. In fact, at least one of the top two U.S. women has been on every winning American Fed Cup team except one since the competition began in 1963. The lone exception was 1990, when Jennifer Capriati, then No. 3, was the top-ranked American, with neither Navratilova nor Fernandez playing in the final against the USSR in Atlanta.
For now, Vandeweghe isn’t worried about the history or what’s on the line.
“I've played a lot of different instances in Fed Cup,” she said. “Days when I wasn't supposed to play I played. I played ties where I was a newbie. Fed Cup gives me the most unrealistic real moments that I could possibly have in a tennis event.
“I really enjoy it. I enjoy just being in a team, whether I'm the lead player or a cheerleader on the side. I'm down for anything these girls need. I think that's what is so special about Fed Cup. I've worked hard to get in this position to be able to represent my country.”