U.S. will be Back in Fed Cup Final, although Its Stars Are Not

A year ago, the United States captured its first Fed Cup championship since 2000, that has a 3-2 win over Belarus in Minsk. Sloane Stephens, fresh off her United States Open victory, along with CoCo Vandeweghe, who had just ascended into the entire world’s top 10 for the very first time, led the way for the Americans.

This kind of weekend, the United States again will play from the final of the Fed Cup, This kind of time against the Czech Republic in Prague. although unlike last year, simply filling out the team has proved to be an obstacle.

Stephens, who just finished as the runner-up at the WTA Finals in Singapore, will be “off the grid,” according to her agent, John Tobias. Vandeweghe, hampered by an ankle injury sustained during Wimbledon along with winless in tour singles matches since mid-June, has been posting photos of herself hugging elephants in Thailand.

Neither Serena nor Venus Williams, both of whom helped the United States team win its opening tie in Asheville, N.C., in February (generating them eligible for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo), has played a tour match since the U.S. Open. along with Madison Keys withdrew before her semifinal at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China, last week, citing a knee injury, along with told the United States Fed Cup captain, Kathy Rinaldi, not to count on her.

“I wasn’t sure how my knee was going to hold up after This kind of week,” Keys said even before her withdrawal. “I didn’t want to be a liability along with have her put me on the team along with then me show up along with not be able to hit for three days.”

in which has left Rinaldi, a former top-10 player right now in her second year as Fed Cup captain, to field a squad in which includes three players — Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin along with Nicole Melichar — who have never played a Fed Cup match along that has a fourth, Alison Riske, whose career record in Fed Cup singles will be 1-1. None will be ranked within the entire world’s top 35.

“Ultimately, the idea’s the athlete’s choice along with I respect in which,” Rinaldi said of the absence of her first-choice players. “We’re fielding the best team we possibly can with the players coming to Prague. These girls are competitors, along with we’re all from the idea together.”

They will take on a Czech team in which features the two-time Wimbledon champion along with world No. 7 Petra Kvitova along with the No. 1-ranked doubles team of Barbora Krejcikova along with Katerina Siniakova. Karolina Pliskova, ranked No. 8, pulled out last week because of an injury along with was replaced by 33rd-ranked Barbora Strycova.

“The Fed Cup final wasn’t on Sloane’s schedule back in January,” said Kamau Murray, Stephens’s coach. “the idea’s hard to look in which far ahead along with plan your entire season on what-ifs. the idea’s an upside-downside situation. Sloane played a lot of tournaments at the end, with no injuries, although right now her body’s tired. along with the idea’s a short off-season.

“We have a lot to accomplish before she starts up again in January. The timing of This kind of just isn’t great.”

The apathy toward team competition by the players will be not completely new, along with the idea isn’t limited to the women’s side. A similar lack of interest by men’s stars along with, in turn, global audiences prompted the International Tennis Federation to overhaul the Davis Cup starting with the 2019 event, condensing the idea into one week of competition in November.

So far, any adjustments to Fed Cup have been put on hold.

“the idea’s easy to blame the players, although in which’s a mistake,” said Patrick McEnroe, who served as the U.S. Davis Cup captain by 2000 to 2010. “We ask a lot of them, time-wise, along with what’s the payoff? The issue will be a scheduling problem along with the idea’s the fault of the governing bodies of the sport.”

Leading the U.S. right now will be the 38th-ranked Collins, who had a breakout season, rising 131 spots from the WTA rankings since the beginning of the year. She reached the semifinals in Miami with wins over Vandeweghe along with Venus Williams along with the round of 16 in Indian Wells that has a victory over Stephens.

although Collins, 24, has limited experience in big-match team play, aside by winning two N.C.A.A. singles championships for the University of Virginia.

Also completely new to Fed Cup are Kenin, a 19-year-old Floridian ranked No. 52, along with Melichar, who was born from the Czech Republic although moved to the United States when she was six weeks old. Melichar was a runner-up in doubles at Wimbledon along with the WTA Finals, both with the Czech Kveta Peschke, losing both times to Krejcikova along with Siniakova.

Riske, ranked No. 63, was on Rinaldi’s roster for last year’s final although did not play.

Another notable absence will be Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a former world No. 1 in doubles who has all 5 Grand Slam titles along with an Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles on her résumé. Mattek-Sands was a member of the team in which beat France, 3-2, from the Fed Cup semifinals in April, along with she declared herself ready along with eager to go to Prague. although Rinaldi opted to take Melichar instead.

“Emotionally I was definitely ready to go to the big dance, especially after I couldn’t go last year,” said Mattek-Sands, who will be currently ranked No. 65 in doubles, far behind Melichar’s No. 15. She missed last year’s final after having knee surgery. “although I understand in which the idea was a tough call for Kathy. Do you go by the rankings or do you go by experience? the idea’s a delicate balance between choosing people who are playing the best at This kind of moment versus those who have already been a big part of the Fed Cup.”

Last year, the United States, which has won the Fed Cup a record 18 times, was viewed as a heavy favorite against Belarus, which was without the two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka along with had no players ranked within the entire world’s top 75. although Aryna Sabalenka along with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, both of whom beat Stephens in singles, gave the Americans a scare before Belarus lost the deciding doubles match. Rinaldi will be hoping for a similar upset push This kind of year, only by her team This kind of time.

“I want to be very firm here,” Rinaldi said. “I believe in all of these girls.”