Sunday, November 12, 2017

On a cool fall evening in Minsk, hot CoCo hits the spot

Today, CoCo Vandeweghe pulled off the rare Fed Cup hat trick: She walked away from the 2017 Fed Cup final with three wins--two in singles and one in doubles. Vandeweghe is a natural Fed Cup team leader. During the 2017 season, she went 5-0 in singles and 2-0 in doubles. Today, she led Team USA to its first Fed Cup championship in 17 years.

In a year when the unexpected became the expected--over and over--it's not really that much of a surprise that rookie Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi, Vandeweghe and the entire USA team won it all. They had some help--defending champions and overwhelming Fed Cup giants Czech Republic showed up in the semifinals with neither its A or "other A" teams, making it much easier for the USA to advance to the final.

The USA has now won Fed Cup 18 times. The team did it today without Serena Williams, Venus Wiliams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, or Madison Keys. They did it without U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens winning a rubber. Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers (who played in the deciding doubles rubber) took the team over the final hurdle.

But the USA story wasn't the only unlikely one. Also playing in the final was Belarus, a team that had never before reached a Fed Cup final, and a team which was missing its only star, Victoria Azarenka. It was hard to imagine Belarus getting to the final, especially since, in the semifinals, they had to play Switzerland. The Swiss team included its star, Timea Bacsinszky, and also recent Fed Cup wonder, Victorija Golubic. But Team Belarus got past the Swiss in five rubbers.

This weekend, Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka played their hearts out (Sasnovich, as a matter of fact, won a Fed Cup Heart Award for her exploits in the semifinals). Vandeweghe beat both of them, but each of them beat Stephens. The doubles rubber seemed a given, since Sabalenka, in particular, has limited doubles experience (and it showed), but it was actually more competitive than one would have thought. The second set was about as thrilling as a set could be, and the USA won it in a tiebreak, though Belarus held multiple set points.

The USA's opening 2018 tie will be against Netherlands, and if they win it, they will face either France or Belgium.

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