Inexperienced US faces weakened Czechs in Fed Cup final
PRAGUE (AP) — United States captain Kathy Rinaldi has had a winning formula since taking over the Fed Cup team, and she's not expected to change anything in this year's final against the Czech Republic.
Under her charge since 2017, the U.S. has won five straight matches, including last year's final against Belarus.
"Being a captain for last year and this year, every match you go into it you never underestimate any team," Rinaldi said Wednesday ahead of the weekend final on an indoor hard court at the O2 Arena in Prague.
"These are the two teams with most history in Fed Cup, the best record, so it's very exciting. We're honored and humble to be here. For me as a captain to be in the second final is absolutely incredible."
On the way to the final, the Americans defeated the Netherlands 3-1 and France 3-2. But they have to rely on a different team in Prague.
After four of the top five U.S. women in the WTA singles rankings — the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys — decided to skip the final, three players on the team have yet to play a Fed Cup match.
The 18-time champions have Danielle Collins as the highest-ranked player at No. 36, along with 52nd-ranked Sofia Kenin and 63rd-ranked Alison Riske. Nicole Melichar is ranked 15th in doubles.
"In sports, any given Sunday, anything can happen," said Melichar, who was born in the second largest Czech city of Brno but has been living in the United States her whole life. "We have a great team, we're going to go out and we're going to fight."
The Czechs have more reasons to worry about their sixth final in eight years.
After No. 8 Karolina Pliskova was ruled out of the final with calf muscle and wrist injuries on Saturday, Czech Republic captain Petr Pala had some more bad news to announce on Wednesday about Petra Kvitova.
"Petra had a fever," Pala said. "After an agreement with the doctors we decided she wouldn't be training (today)."
However, Pala added: "Nothing suggests she wouldn't be available for the weekend."
Missing Kvitova would be a blow for the Czech hopes. She contributed to all five previous titles, reaching fourth place among players with the most Fed Cup trophies.
Kvitova returned to the team this year after recovering from injuries she suffered during a knife attack at her home in December 2016 and won all her four singles matches on the way to the 3-1 victory over Switzerland in the first round and a 4-1 win over Germany in the semifinals.
Kvitova won five WTA tournaments in the first half of the year but lost all her group matches at the WTA Finals in Singapore last month.
The Czechs have the No. 1 doubles pair of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova, and also 33rd-ranked Barbora Strycova available.
Siniakova, ranked 31st, is expected to play both singles and doubles.
"I just try to work this week to be ready," she said.
The Czechs have never beaten the Americans in the Fed Cup. Their last victory came in 1985 as Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia won five titles.