When the French Tennis Federation announced that they had selected Strasbourg as the host city for the Fed Cup Final in November, many people expected the FTF to also announce that the tie would be played on clay. When they announced that it would be played on indoor hard courts, many were surprised at the surface choice. For a country trying to overturn a Fed Cup juggernaut in the Czech Republic, they have essentially set up perennial Czech Fed Cup hero Petra Kvitova to play her absolute best in the final.
Playing the Fed Cup Final on an indoor hard court simply highlights all of the strengths in Petra Kvitova’s game. Kvitova has an affinity for fast, low bouncing court surfaces. The two-time Wimbledon champion inflicts most of her damage on the WTA tour (outside of Wimbledon) in indoor tournaments. Kvitova has shown over the years that “peak” Kvitova is only matched in power, return winners, and serving by Serena Williams. Peak Kvitova happens most usually on a hard court. Just two weeks ago, Kvitova ravaged a deep field in Wuhan, demolishing Dominka Cibulkova 6-1, 6-1 in the final. She cracked aces and return winners that only left people in the stands gasping at their power and angles.
Kvitova also reaches this “peak” level often when playing for her country. All of the Czech women seem to reach a higher level of play for events like the Fed Cup. Their nationalism seems to stir a higher concentration and production level. This is even more true about Petra Kvitova. This year has been less than stellar for the 28-year-old Czech, but this summer at the Rio Olympics, Kvitova (playing for her country) found another gear to win the bronze medal. She played several tough matches that she gutted out with huge forehands and fearless serving. Kvitova discussed how the bronze medal for her country is one of the great achievements of her career. Many athletes with her Grand Slam hardware might feel off-put by having only won the bronze, but playing for her country means so much to Kvitova, that the bronze medals became a truly precious honor for her.
This was accomplished on what was described as one of the slowest outdoor hard courts in the history of tennis, playing in some of the heaviest, wettest air an Olympic tennis ball has ever swam through. How much easier will it be for Kvitova to find this form on a surface that is the equivalent of her eating in her own kitchen? Kvitova’s Instagram is peppered with pictures of her practicing on indoor hard courts. Yes, the French women like that surface too, but Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia are also strong clay court players. Mladenovic’s best moments have come on the spring clay swing, and in her home Slam in Roland Garros. It would seem France would truck in the heaviest, dankest, deepest clay they could put in the Rhenus Sport Arena and put the Czech ace on her worst surface that robs her feet of their comfort and stability.
Sweet, Homey Straousburg
Beyond this, it seems the choice of city is strange too. Straousburg is not a small city, and it is full of culture, shopping, etc, but it isn’t Paris with the traffic, noise, people walking the streets at all hours of the day and night. Kvitova makes it no secret that she often loses herself and her confidence when in cities where the noise and crowds stoke her anxiety. When asked about her lack of success at events like the US Open, Kvitova told the BBC that “the energy of the place doesn’t really suit my personality. I like a kind of quiet place…” She herself admits her love for Wimbledon is greatly due to how it is nestled away in a sleepy little hamlet outside London, where businesses and events have to be finished by 10 pm. By taking Kvitova out of the noise of the metropolis of Paris, they are taking away a key psychological advantage the French team could hold.
The Czech women have dominated Fed Cup play over the past six years. With a deep team that includes Lucie Safarova, Karolina Pliskova, Barbara Strycova, and doubles specialists like Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova, their commitment and depth is unparalleled. France, even with hosting the event, would be a massive underdog against the defending champions, and by not using the home court selection to their advantage, they are placing themselves in position to have to work incredibly hard for what would be their monumental upset.