November 9, 2014

Czech Mate: Fed Cup Final Round-Up

There was plenty of room for drama at this weekend's Fed Cup final, with two recent powerhouse teams going head-to-head for the trophy. But, even with a solid slate of top-twenty players and recent titleists on the German team, the Czechs barreled through their opponents, picking up their third championship in four years, and asserting themselves as a real force in tennis.

Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova opened the final tie against Sofia champion Andrea Petkovic on Saturday, but even with her higher ranking, this promised to be a close match. Petko had climbed back to her highest ranking in three years, picked up a trio of trophies on the season, and, with a 4-3 career record against the Czech, certainly knew how to get the better of her. But Kvitova came out swinging, keeping the German on the baseline while she rushed the net -- she broke serve five times and fired off twenty-five winners during the match, pushing her team to an early lead. Germany had a good shot at evening the score, though, as they pitted their top player Angelique Kerber, an alternate for the year-end final in Singapore, against Lucie Safarova, whose biggest accomplishment to date was a semifinal showing at the All England Club. But the world #16 was able to surprise again -- she took advantage of some weak serving by the four-time runner-up this season to notch her third top-ten win of the year.

With the Czechs taking a dominant 2-0 lead into Day Two, it was up to Kerber again to keep her team -- playing in their first Fed Cup final since 1992 -- alive, and she very nearly did it. Her first set against Kvitova lasted well over an hour and eventually went to a tiebreak, and though she did ultimately succumb, Kerber roared back in the second to give the Germans their first set win of the tie. It was too little, too late, though, as Kvitova stayed tougher in the dramatic decider, but with just four points separating the two women, this rubber really could have gone either way. The Germans did finally get on the board, with Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges teaming up to score a surprising win over long-time doubles champs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, but the 3-1 score was just enough to give the Czechs the win and rise back to the winners' circle they occupied just two years ago.

With so many of the tennis headlines this year dominated by the likes of Serena Williams, Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova, it's easy to have lost sight of the lower-profile Czechs. But with three of the five Fed Cup titles this decade going to the same country, it's hard to ignore their consistency and strength of their team. And I wouldn't be surprised if they make an even bigger name for themselves in the months to come.

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