Czech Republic defend @FedCup crown! 🏆 Win their 9th title in #FedCup history--> https://t.co/XumZLUkgxo pic.twitter.com/K6Gxk8RInf— WTA (@WTA) November 16, 2015
We knew we were going to get a very competitive final this weekend when Fed Cup giants Russia and the Czech Republic contested for the 2015 trophy. One of the reasons I like Fed Cup so much is that anything can happen--and it usually does. This weekend was no exception.
The Czechs, defending champions, went into the final with both a big advantage and a big disadvantage. The advantage was that their leader, Petra Kvitova, excels on indoor courts, and in Fed Cup play, in general. The disadvantage was that their other major Fed Cup force, Lucie Safarova, had to sit out play because of a wrist injury.
On the Russian side, Maria Sharapova was on hand to help boost Russian to its fifth title. On the down side for Russia, Svetland Kuznetsova wasn't part of the on-court team, and Ekaterina Makarova wasn't recovered enough from her injury to participate as a player.
So both countries went into this weekend's final with teams that were not exactly constructed the way they had wished, but these kinds of disappointments are part and parcel of Fed Cup competition.
In the opening rubber, Kvitova's nerves got the best of her in her first set against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but the Barking Czech recovered and took that opening rubber for her team, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1. Newcomer Karolina Pliskova then lost 3-6, 4-6 to Sharapova, so the first day ended with a 1-1 score.
Kvitova played masterfully against Sharapova in the opening set of the third rubber, but then, as Sharapova's game vastly improved, Kvitova became an error machine. The Russians took that rubber 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, following Sharapova's very fine performance.
It was then up to Pliskova to keep the Czech Republic in the competition. She had never before been in that position--or even one similar--but the big-serving world number 11 rose to the occasion with very big serves (79 and 89 first and second serve percentages) and a lot of poise. She defeated Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-4.
It should be noted that Pliskova was running on fumes throughout the entire event. She had an extremely busy schedule in 2015 and had declared herself exhausted. But she was nevertheless able to prevent a 3-1 Russian victory, and she did so under extreme pressure.
But there was more! Pliskova had to substitute for Safarova in the deciding doubles rubber. The Czech Republic has some outstanding doubles players--Safarova, Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka, Barbora Strycova--but only Strycova was on the nominated team. A substitute had to be made on the Russian team, too. The very formidable top 10 team of Makarova and Elena Vesnina had to withdraw from the WTA Finals in Singapore and--because of Makarova's injury--could not compete in Prague, so Vesnina played with Pavlyuchenkova, who is also a fine doubles competitor.
In the first set, Vesnina was on fire, both serving and at the net, and the Russians won it, 6-4. Now the pressure was palpable for the Czechs, and in the second set, Strycova went all out with an attacking game which raised her team's level. The Czech Republic took that set 6-3. By the third set, Strycova and Pliskova had established a rhythm. Vesnina, by this time, had gone into her unfortunately famous slump mode and was missing everything she'd been getting easily in the first half of the match. This was a shame because her performance had been--and still was, at times--very impressive.
It's one set all! Czechs take the 2nd set 6-3 + there'll be a one set shootout to see who lifts the #FedCup trophy! pic.twitter.com/sRqHvPqqTf— Fed Cup (@FedCup) November 15, 2015
As for Strycova, she was everywhere--at the net, on the baseline, and frequently down on the court, dodging flying balls, falling, tumbling, and seemingly doing her best imitation of Jelena Jankovic, minus the prolonged seat-on-the-surface time-outs. This was Strycova at her very best, and before you could say "Maria Sharapova looks really fed up in the stands," Strycova was serving for the championship. Which seemed entirely appropriate. And the Czechs took that last set 6-2, giving them their fourth title in the past five years.
To get to the final, the Czech Republic defeated Canada 4-0, and France 3-1. The Czechs (including the period when the country was part of Czechoslovakia) have won nine Fed Cup titles.