2017 Fed Cup Final: USA (2/5) vs Belarus (13/5)
The United States women’s team is in good standing to end its 17-year Fed Cup drought. They’ll travel to Minsk to face Belarus on November 11th-12th seeking their 18th title overall, while the Belarusians are looking for their first.
Missing from the lineup is Madison Keys, who sustained a wrist injury last month, and Venus Williams, who opted to skip the event due to scheduling conflicts. Also, doubles star Bethanie Mattek-Sands is still nursing an injury suffered at Wimbledon.
US women’s tennis has been dominated by the Williams sisters for over a decade, but a new crop of promising players is starting to flourish, and that youth will be on full display against Belarus. The team is currently slated to be led by 24-year-old US Open-winner Sloane Stephens, accompanied by Coco Vandeweghe (25), Shelby Rogers (25), and Alison Riske (27). Stephens’ US Open final opponent, Madison Keys (22), will be missing from the lineup thanks to a wrist injury sustained last month, while Venus Williams will be absent due to a scheduling conflict.
I say “currently slated” because Stephens’ status is still uncertain. She has not won a match (let alone a tournament) since raising the the US Open trophy almost two months ago. A knee injury forced her to retire early at the WTA Elite Trophy, and it’s unclear whether she’ll be completely recovered by the time the Fed Cup final rolls around.
Vandeweghe has been the standout star for the US at this year’s Fed Cup. She won all three of her singles matches and two doubles matches against Germany and the Czech Republic, leading the US to their first final since 2010. That was back in April, though. Since her semifinal appearance at the US Open, she’s had lackluster results, yet recently climbed to a career-high ranking of 12th.
Belarus have even graver concerns on the injury front. Their chances took a huge hit after it was announced that former world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka will not make an appearance in Minsk due to an ongoing custody battle. Without her, Belarus will be forced to pin their hopes on the 78th-ranked Aryna Sabalenka to lead them to victory. She has a mediocre 29-23 overall record in 2017, though did recently reach the finals of the Tianjin Open (her first ever WTA final) where she lost to Maria Sharapova. The 19-year-old has a ton of potential and should take over the reins of Belarussian tennis from Azarenka in due course, but she’s not as far along in her development as the relative youngsters on the American roster.
Even with the Williams sisters skipping the event, Madison Keys injured, and Sloane Stephens experiencing a serious dip in form, the US still boast the superior team. They overcame the favorites, the Czech Republic, in order to advance to the finals. Defeating Belarus should be a simpler task, even in a hostile environment.
Pick: USA (2/5)