Minsk | USA favourites for Fed Cup title

The 2017 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final between Belarus and USA will be played in front of a sell-out crowd at the Chizhovka Arena in Minsk on 11-12 November, the Belarusian Tennis Federation confirmed on Thursday.

The 8,807 capacity-stadium is something of a lucky charm for Belarus this year following their surprise victories over Netherlands and Switzerland.

Over the coming weekend it will be packed to the rafters as the hosts bid to upset 17-time champions USA, in their first appearance in the Fed Cup Final.

Such is the demand to be a part of Belarus’ historic title-bid amongst home fans, organisers are floating plans to install a giant screen outside the stadium to allow more fans to soak up the atmosphere and watch the weekend unfold.

Belarus, featuring in the World Group for the first time this year, is hosting a Fed Cup tie for only the sixth time in the nation’s history.

Prior to their February and April ties, Belarus had not hosted a Fed Cup tie since their 5-0 win over Estonia in the World Group II play-offs in 2011.

The hosts, however, face a mighty challenge if they are to record a landmark maiden triumph in the competition.

While the United States are without both Serena and Venus Williams, the nation is still fielding a quality team and must be favourites to win the trophy.

CoCo Vandeweghe, who entered the world’s Top 10 for the first time on Monday at No.10, will link-up with US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske in the Belarusian capital as Kathy Rinaldi’s USA side bid to end a 17-year title drought in the international team competition.

Vandeweghe has played a major part in USA’s success this year, having won each of the three singles and two doubles rubbers she has contested in guiding the team to wins over Germany in February and the Czech Republic in April.

Fresh from her run to the final at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, Vandeweghe is leading the team in Minsk in the USA’s first appearance in the Fed Cup Final since falling to Italy in San Diego in 2010, when the Californian fell to Flavia Pennetta in the title-deciding fourth rubber.

The American is a better player now, thanks in part to taking on Pat Cash as her coach in the summer ahead of Wimbledon.

The Australian, who is travelling with the team to Minsk, took a swipe at Tennis Australia over his US Fed Cup role

A two-time Davis Cup winner for Australia in the 1980s, Cash has been overlooked as an option to captain the nation’s team in retirement, and he could not resist a jab before joining the traditional enemy.

“I get invited along [to Davis Cup], get the courtesy ‘by the way here’s a ticket’ but never an airfare or hotel, which is disappointing,” Cash told AAP last week.

“I think the way they treat their ex-players in tennis in general – and Australian tennis is no different – is pretty poor.

“I’ve been in the American camp for I don’t know how many minutes and am already being treated better than the Australians have treated me.”

The 1987 Wimbledon champion took on the Vandeweghe coaching role after the French Open in June.

“I couldn’t have wished for a better player,” Cash said.

“I’ll watch her any day and she is one of the few players on the women’s circuit where you sit down and say, ‘ok, there’s going to be some action here’.”

Vandeweghe was at her combustible best in the WTA Elite Trophy final in China on Sunday, blowing a 5-2 first set advantage to fall 7-5 6-1 to Germany’s Julia Goerges, but her journey to the final was still enough to earn a career-high ranking of 10.

“I think Pat came in at a great time where I was probably at a very low point,” the 25-year-old said. “The best way to describe it [his role] is a father figure.

“It will be interesting to have him in the female dynamic of the Fed Cup since he was a Davis Cup legend.”

Cash is a dual citizen thanks to his American mother and says the US is his ‘second favourite country’.

“If Australia was playing the US I’d be torn,” he laughed.

Meanwhile, two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka, who has been locked in a custody battle over her baby son, will be missing from the Belarusian team.

The Belarussian team hoping to upset the odds on home soil

Getty Images

Former World No 1 Azarenka was forced to skip the US Open in August after a Los Angeles judge presiding in a custody case over her 10-month old son Leo, ruled the child could not leave California until the matter had been settled.

Belarus team skipper Eduard Dubrov, however, said his young team were capable of overcoming the 28-year-old’s absence in their first Fed Cup final.

“The progress that our young girls have made in recent months gives me confidence in our team’s prospects in the final,” Dubrov told reporters recently.

“Victoria [Azarenka] will be unable to come to play for the reasons that everybody knows. It’s a pity but we just can’t change anything right now.”

Aryna Sabalenka, 19, and currently 78th in the WTA rankings, will spearhead the Belarus squad along with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, ranked 87, and Vera Lapko, also 19, who have all been instrumental in getting Belarus to the final.

Doubles specialist Lidziya Morozova was Dubrov’s surprise pick as she rejoins the team for the first time since 2013.

Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is the World Cup of Tennis, the largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, with 107 nations entered in 2017.

The competition is 54 years old having been founded in 1963 when 16 countries took part.

Supported by the top players right from the start, it was held at The Queen’s Club, in London, where the first final contest was between Australia and the United States.

Grand Slam champions Darlene Hard, Billie Jean King, Margaret Smith and Lesley Turner all proudly represented their countries and the United States emerged the champion nation in the inaugural year.

It was to be Australia, however, that dominated in the early years, winning seven of the next eleven championships.

Around 1980 the USA was able to establish some significant mark on the competition setting in future years a very high standard for others to compete against.

Despite no prize money and teams having to meet their own expenses, the competition prospered and when sponsorship became available, first by the Colgate Group in 1976, and, from 1981 to 1994 by the Japanese communications and computer giant NEC, the number of teams expanded dramatically.

In 1994, there were 73 nations competing, with the host nation of a Federation Cup week now being required to build a special tennis complex, giving rise to what became known as the Federation Cup ‘legacy’.

In 1995, the Federation Cup was converted to a new format from its traditional 32 draw competition plus qualifying held over a week to ten days at one venue, and shortened its name to the Fed Cup.

The home-and-away format trialled by the Davis Cup, was adopted for the Fed Cup so that women, could play for their country in their own country.

There have been a number of smaller changes to the format since 1995, the current format, introduced in 2005, incorporates an eight Nation World Group I and eight-nation World Group II both playing home-and-away over three weekends throughout the year, while three regional groups compete and there are promotions and demotions based on results.

For the Fed Cup final in Minsk this weekend, live scoring will be available on the new Fed Cup Live Centre http://live.fedcup.com , while live streaming is available on the new live streaming solution https://video.fedcup.com .





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