November 12, 2015

Fed Cup Final Preview: A Chance for Redemption

It's not often that you see so many ladies who played the postseason take such a little break before getting back to action. But with this year's Fed Cup championship tie featuring more than a few players who made the cut in either Singapore or Zhuhai -- all of whom fell a little short over the last few championship events -- we might just be in for an extra-high quality battle for this trophy.

The Russians

The five-time champions came in second at Fed Cup twice this decade, even losing the final to their current opponents back in 2011. They're bringing even bigger guns to the fight this time around, but even these stars are looking for a comeback.

Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova, doubles finalists at Wimbleon, qualified for the paired draw in Singapore but had to pull out because of a leg injury for the latter. They haven't played together since Toronto -- Makarova, in fact, clearly the more accomplished on the singles circuit, has been out of action entirely since a fourth round loss in New York. But over the years they've won five titles together, two of them Majors, and while it may be tough to rebound immediately at such a high-stakes event, these two certainly have the talent to do it.

Maria Sharapova certainly seemed well on her way to her own rebound -- after sustaining her own injury at Wimbledon and skipping the U.S. Open, she lost her first round back, retiring in the third set of her opener in Wuhan. But came out swinging at the WTA Finals, surviving a test against eventual champion Aga Radwanska before rolling through the rest of her round robins unscathed. But just when it looked like her momentum was back in full swing, she ran into a wall, falling in straight sets to Petra Kvitova in the semis. As the Russians' leader she'll get a chance to avenge that loss this weekend, and with surprise Linz champ Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova rounding out the team, there might be enough firepower to bring home the Cup.

The Czechs

Of course the defending champs will be out in full force -- and while their heavy-hitters certainly have plenty to be proud of from their postseason showings, even they're looking for a bit of a bounce-back.

Two ladies on this team actually qualified for the year-end title in Singapore -- surprise French Open finalist Lucie Safarova just barley squeezed her way into the field, qualifying despite losing every match she played since the New Haven final. She was in danger of blanking in her Championships debut too, dropping her first two round robins in straight sets. But while she was able to avoid a total shut out, notching an upset over Angelique Kerber in her last match, she'll certainly hope to up her game this weekend. And Petra Kvitova, who won the whole shebang in her first trip to the WTA Finals four years ago, will want to make up for her somewhat unexpected loss to Radwanska in the championship.

Countrywoman Karolina Pliskova also fell just one match short of a big win herself. After a strong start to 2015, during which she reached finals in Brisbane and Dubai, she rose to #7 in the world. While she stumbled a bit later in the season and didn't quite make the cut in Singapore, for the second year in a row got to play for the consolation prize, and this time won both of her round robins in Zhuhai before rolling over Elina Svitolina in the semis. Her run was finally ended by Venus Williams in the title match, but if she gets back on track, she might just be the clincher this weekend. And with always-feisty Barbora Strycova on deck to help out, this team looks to be in a good position to repeat.

As always there's a lot on the line when Fed Cup finals roll around, but this year, with an extra special slate of talent on board, the stakes may be even higher. And with so many looking for that one more win to make up for recent losses, we might be in for some of the biggest battles we've seen all year.

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