Prague | Czechs go 2-0 up against USA
In the absence of Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova, the Czech Republic relied on the depth of their players to notch up the first two rubbers against defending champions the United States in front of a packed O2 Arena in Prague in the final of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas on Saturday.
"For me it was a lot of emotions, I fought every ball and I'm so happy that I could win today in front of such a crowd. It means a lot to me. Barbora Strycova
Barbora Strycova and Katerina Siniakova handed the Czech Republic the perfect start on a dramatic opening day between the two most successful nations in Fed Cup history.
US Captain Kathy Rinaldi felt her team could easily have been two up instead: “I think all credit to the Czech players, they were awesome today, but that being said we could have been up 0-2 as well,” she told press on Saturday evening.
“I thought today we played some great tennis, these girls laid their hearts and souls on that court and competed.
“It was just a day of missed opportunities in my opinion. But again anything can happen in Fed Cup, and tomorrow is another day. I’m super-proud of these girls.”
Strycova, playing her final tie in the competition, fought back to claim a 6-7(5) 6-1 6-4 victory over teenage US debutant Sofia Kenin, before World doubles No 1 Siniakova, making her first appearance for her nation, edged past Alison Riske, 6-3 7-6(2).
Strycova, the World No 33, came from a set down to beat the 52nd-ranked, 19-year-old Kenin in 2 hours and 43 minutes.
The 32-year-old Czech, who announced her retirement from Fed Cup duty after this final, struggled with her serve throughout a nervous first set.
Strycova and Russian-born Kenin earned two breaks apiece, with the more aggressive US teenager taking the set in a tiebreak.
Propelled by the sold-out O2 Arena with 14,500 fans cheering her on, the four-time Fed Cup winner regained her composure in the second set to sweep aside Kenin, who is still in search of her maiden WTA singles title.
Strycova took a 5-2 lead in the third and, despite giving up two breaks, she took the set 6-4.
“For me it was a lot of emotions,” Strycova said on court after the win. “I fought every ball and I’m so happy that I could win today in front of such a crowd. It means a lot to me.
“Every point is very important and I’m very happy I could do it today.”
The American admitted she was ‘a little bit overwhelmed’ by her debut.
“I was pretty nervous but I was able to handle it,” Kenin admitted. “In the second set I got a lot of break opportunities but she just played too good so credit to her.”
In the second rubber of the day, Siniakova cruised through the opening set of her encounter with Riske, forging ahead through a pair of breaks after indulging in groundstrokes and long rallies.
Ahead of her match, Siniakova had won two of the three previous encounters against the American and added to her tally as she took the win in an hour and 38 minutes.
Riske went 3-1 up in the second, but Siniakova levelled and took the set to a tiebreak, which she dominated to seal victory.
The Czech won 72 per cent of points from her first serve, including 5 aces, on her way to a 6-3, 7-6 victory.
“I was just trying to focus on every point [in the tiebreak],” said Siniakova.
“Actually, after the first point I was thinking, you know, you’ve played so many tiebreaks this year and you won almost all.
“It couldn’t be better but it isn’t finished yet so we need to be ready for tomorrow.”
The United States have lifted the trophy a record 18 times but on this occasion are missing Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Madison Keys, while the Czechs are without Pliskova and two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, who ended up on the bench with a bad cold.
“We’re well prepared, we’ve done our homework, and now it’s just a matter of executing the game-plan and doing the best that we can,” Rinaldi had said ahead of the final as she bid to lead the US to back-to-back Fed Cup titles for the first time since 2000, and become the first side to win consecutive titles away from home since the current format was adopted in 1995.
“For the youngsters and the rookies, they’re super-excited. They know what an honour it is, they’re very appreciative of the opportunity, and they’re all feisty competitors.
“They’re going to give it their all, they’re going to lay it out there, and leave their heart and soul on that court.”
On Sunday, in the reverse singles, Siniakova is due to face Kenin and Strycova will face Riske and, with nerves set aside, anything can happen.
Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova are then scheduled to face Danielle Collins and the Czech-born Nicole Melichar in the final doubles rubber.
The teams, however, may change, especially if Kvitova gets better.
“We need to discuss that. It will definitely be easier to put the team together when we are 2-0 up,” said Czech Captain Petr Pala.
Kvitova, the World No 7, who has a perfect 4-0 Fed Cup record in 2018, struggled with illness in the lead-up to the final and was not risked on Saturday.
“We decided on Thursday,” said Kvitova, who hopes to be fit in time for Sunday’s reverse singles.
“After my practice, I lay down in bed and stayed there. I had a bit of a fever as well. Last week I had antibiotics, but I’m still not ready.
“Of course, I’m sad, it’s a bit disappointing. I’ve been staying in the Czech Republic for two weeks to be ready for the final of the Fed Cup. Hopefully everything will be fine for Sunday.”
In front of the packed crowds, the advantage most certainly falls in favour of the Czech team.
“This is what all the players play for,” Pala added.
“Even if we play away, but especially when we play at home, we enjoy that, it’s a great feeling. But all that matters now is tomorrow’s matches. Right now it’s a long way to go.”