Joel Drucker: Holding Court on Tennis - 2/9

No nation has won the Fed Cup more than United States. But the last of the US team’s 17 titles came back in 2000. This weekend in Maui, the stars and stripes commence a new campaign, going up against Germany.

Neither squad will be with its best player, be it world number one Serena Williams for the US nor second-ranked Angelique Kerber for Germany. As with Davis Cup, welcome yet again to the wacky world of tennis scheduling – where high-stakes team events sometimes come so quickly after major tournaments that it’s quite understandable why top players might wish at least a bit of recovery time. Darn.

Still, team play always creates intrigue and emotion. The German squad features several accomplished players. Veteran Andrea Petkovic can play inspired tennis. Julia Georges slashes the ball big, particularly off her forehand. Laura Siegemund, ranked 90th in the world at the start of ’16, has made her way into the top 40.

America’s team is in some ways starting a new era, personified most vividly by a new captain, Kathy Rinaldi-Stunkel. Having worked for years as a USTA coach, aiding players at all age levels, Rinaldi-Stunkel is deeply familiar with her players. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the world’s number one doubles player, can be counted on to trot out every possible tactic. Shelby Rogers, a surprise quarterfinalist at Roland Garros last year, followed that up with an impressive win over Simona Halep at the Australian Open. Alison Riske has also inched her way up the ranks, last week reaching a career high of 38.

But perhaps the biggest X factor for the US is CoCo Vandeweghe. Winner of the US Open junior title back in 2008, Vandeweghe has long been a significant talent. But she’s also had her share of ups and downs. In the last 18 months, though, Vandeweghe has become much more balanced, harnessing everything from her superb serve to her powerful groundstrokes. In 2015, she reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Even more impressive was her run in Melbourne, where wins over Kerber and reigning Roland Garros champion Garbine Muguruza took Vandeweghe to the semis – where she won the first set versus Venus Williams but ended up losing. Now ranked 20 in the world, Vandeweghe now stands on the brink of further ascent. Having hailed from a family of team sports players – her mother was an Olympic swimmer and volleyball player, her grandfather and uncle both enjoyed long NBA careers – Vandeweghe could well be a player who uses Fed Cup as a springboard for greater success.

Coming Up

+ Friday: Happy Birthday To A Tennis Icon

+ Saturday: What We All Learned From Roger Federer

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