Depleted Czech, USA teams to clash in Fed Cup final
Prague - Defending champions the United States are targeting a record-extending 11th Fed Cup victory when they face the Czech Republic in a Prague final set to be missing key players.
Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams and Madison Keys are missing on the US squad while a torn calf has ruled out Karolina Pliskova from the Czech team and doubts linger over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
US captain Kathy Rinaldi has called on world No 36 Danielle Collins, 52nd-ranked Sofia Kenin and 63rd-ranked Alison Riske alongside the Czech-born 15th-ranked doubles player Nicole Melichar.
All but Riske will make their Fed Cup debut on the hardcourt of Prague's 15 000-capacity O2 Arena, which is sold out for Saturday and Sunday.
"We're going to go out there one match at a time and really compete," said Rinaldi, who steered the USA to victory last year beating Belarus in the final and the Czechs in the semi-final.
"Obviously these are two teams with the most history in the Fed Cup, the best record, so it's very exciting," she added.
Boasting 18 trophies, the USA is the most successful team in Fed Cup history, with the Czech Republic second on the list with 10 including five as the former Czechoslovakia.
The hosts are also second best in terms of head-to-head, winning only two of their previous 12 meetings against the Americans.
Led by Kvitova and Pliskova, the Czechs have won five of the last seven editions including all three finals they have played on Prague's hardcourt.
With Pliskova sidelined, the focus is now on world No 7 Kvitova, although doubts linger after she skipped Wednesday's training after grappling with a high temperature following a course of antibiotics last week.
Czech captain Petr Pala insisted it did not mean Kvitova would not be fit to compete.
"Nothing seems to suggest she won't be ready at the weekend, and no one has yet conceded that she won't play," Pala told media.
Kvitova will join the world's top doubles pair of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who is also ranked 31st for singles, and Barbora Strycova, the world number 33.
Melichar, who speaks fluent Czech, said she was confident the US team would take the honours in the end.
"We have a great team, regardless what the social media says and what it says on paper. I think we can do it," said Melichar, who was born in the second Czech city of Brno but raised in the States.
"In sports any given Sunday anything can happen and all these girls play unbelievably well," added the 25-year-old who said she acted as an interpreter, Czech teacher and food adviser to the US team.
"I have tried to teach them a few words here and there and to translate a few things. But no bad words - in fact they haven't even asked yet."